#Trendspotting: Week 12 - It's Finally Happening

Examining player and team trends to identify valuable DFS options and start/sits in season-long leagues

Graphics Tutorial

I've gotten feedback that my graphics aren't as self-explanatory and intuitive as I think they are, so I provided a guide at the beginning of a past version of this article.

Reader's Guide

  • Green text is a good matchup for that team's offensive players.
  • Red text is a bad matchup.
  • All reference to fantasy points assumes DraftKings scoring rules unless otherwise specified.
  • All stats reference the full 2017 season unless otherwise specified.
  • All fantasy points rankings in the matchup graphics are on a per-game basis to account for bye weeks.

This week, because it's Thanksgiving and your reading time is likely limited, we're going to keep the team sections short and stick to the commentary sections only. The "What's New" and "The Weakest Links" section will give some good nuggets, as usual, so be sure to check those out.

Below, we'll discuss the following topics. Happy Thanksgiving!

Keep Your Eye on the Targets

The table below looks at the bottom eight (8) pass defenses in terms of yards allowed per game and shows how those defenses allow targets, yards, and touchdowns. The teams are listed from most yards per game to least. Here are some quick notes on how to decipher the chart:

  • Tampa Bay allows 62.9% of their targets to wide receivers, and they're tied for last in the NFL with New England in yards per game yielded to wide receivers
  • They've surrendered 12 touchdowns to wideouts.
  • The New York Giants have yielded nine (9) touchdowns to tight ends.
  • Houston allows 25.6% of its total targets and the sixth-most (i.e. 27th-ranked) yards per game to tight ends.
Team RB Tgt% Yds/Gm Rank TD WR Tgt% Yds/Gm Rank TD TE Tgt% Yds/Gm Rank TD
New England Patriots 20.1% 30 3 61.4% 32 10 18.5% 11 5
Tampa Bay Buccaneers 21.4% 24 2 62.9% 32 12 15.7% 6 3
Indianapolis Colts 17.8% 28 2 63.3% 30 8 19.0% 16 5
New York Giants 19.8% 15 2 55.0% 22 8 25.1% 30 9
Kansas City Chiefs 17.9% 1 0 63.0% 29 15 19.1% 25 1
Oakland Raiders 24.8% 27 4 53.9% 21 9 21.4% 24 4
Houston Texans 17.0% 4 3 57.4% 28 13 25.6% 27 6
Washington Redskins 21.4% 20 4 54.8% 12 8 23.8% 31 6
                   

Action(able) Items

  • New England has gotten better after their dreadful start. They're not the worst pass defense in the league at this point in time.
  • Tampa Bay's coverage against wide receivers, however, started bad and has stayed bad. More on this later.
  • Oakland allows their yardage to every position. They are bad everywhere.

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Funnel Watch

A "funnel" defense is one with a stout run defense but a suspect (or worse) pass defense. These units "funnel" production to the exterior and deep parts of the field (places where passing games focus) and away from the short middle (where the running game typically occurs).

Team PaYd/Gm RuYd/Gm NYd/Att Yd/Rush %PassYd %RushYd
Tampa Bay Buccaneers 276.3 107.2 7.4 3.9 72.0% 28.0%
Arizona Cardinals 242.9 101.3 6.2 3.7 70.6% 29.4%
Houston Texans 252.8 92.0 7.2 3.7 73.3% 26.7%
Tennessee Titans 241.2 89.2 6.0 3.6 73.0% 27.0%
Cleveland Browns 222.0 91.7 6.6 3.1 70.8% 29.2%
             

Action(able) Items

  • Funnel defenses can either be so hard to run against that teams don't try, or they can be so easy to pass against that teams don't bother trying to run. Tampa Bay falls into the latter, and their middling yards-per-rush numbers confirm that. Matt Ryan should have a field day.
  • Seeing a team who employs Patrick Peterson on this list is surprising (even though we see Arizona's results every week). Non-WR1s against the Cardinals have been doing whatever they want all season long. DeDe Westbrook is an interesting desperation play in traditional leagues and GPP dart-throw in DFS.

"Runnel" Defense

Sometimes, the funnel effect can happen in reverse, where a team is very good against the pass but poor against the run (hence, "runnel" defense).

Team PaYd/Gm RuYd/Gm NYd/Att Yd/Rush %PassYd %RushYd
Baltimore Ravens 185.2 120.8 5.4 4.1 60.5% 39.5%
Los Angeles Chargers 209.8 138.9 5.5 4.9 60.2% 39.8%
Los Angeles Rams 211.7 123.3 5.8 4.5 63.2% 36.8%
Atlanta Falcons 200.8 115.9 5.3 4.5 63.4% 36.6%
Dallas Cowboys 215.9 115.7 5.7 4.6 65.1% 34.9%
             

Action(able) Items

  • New Orleans and Los Angeles (Rams) are two of the most surprising teams in the NFL this season -- not just because they're having success, but because of how they're having success. The Saints are an outstanding rushing team. Despite being on the road in a potential shootout, Mark Ingram II is still the preferred play to Alvin Kamara.
  • Atlanta's presence on this list (and the ball-control gameplan it should inspire) is the only chance Tampa Bay can give itself of not getting run out of the building on Sunday by the Atlanta passing game.

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What's New?

Last week, we discussed Houston vs. wide receivers. If receivers are having success...

They're Bad Against Quarterbacks Too

Here are the last four weeks of quarterback finishes against Houston:

  • Week 11: QB6
  • Week 10: QB3
  • Week 9: QB8
  • Week 8: QB1

That's pretty bad. It's made worse when you find out those quarterbacks were Blaine Gabbert, Jared Goff, Jacoby Brissett, and Russell Wilson. Houston has allowed 12 passing touchdowns in those four games and 16 in its last six games (that includes a game against Kevin Hogan). Against non-Hogan opponents, Houston is allowing an average of three touchdowns passes per game over its last five.

 Player Wk Com Att Yd TD Int FPs
Blaine Gabbert 11 22 34 257 3 2 21.6
Jared Goff 10 25 37 355 3 0 29.5
Jacoby Brissett 9 20 30 308 2 0 23.5
Russell Wilson 8 26 41 452 4 1 39.1
Kevin Hogan 6 20 37 140 1 3 10.2
Alex Smith 5 29 37 324 3 0 29.9
               

I Thought Tigers Were Fast

We've now reached the "bad trends" portion of this section. If you're wondering why production in Cincinnati is hard to come by, it's a volume issue.

One Player Can Make a Difference

Since Jacksonville acquired Marcell Dareus on October 28, their run defense has done a complete 180.

Since the trade, Jacksonville is allowing:

  • 2.55 yards per carry (second-best in the NFL)
  • 55.3 rushing yards per game (best in the NFL)

Before the trade, Jacksonville allowed:

  • 5.16 yards per carry (worst in the NFL)
  • 138.6 rush yards per game (third-worst)

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The Weakest Links

The streak of all streaks has ended; the New York Giants did not allow a touchdown to a tight end last week. They did, however, allow 8 receptions for 109 yards to Travis Kelce

I'd like to take this time to offer an apology for a slight error in last week's column. My chart in the "Keep Your Eye on the Targets" section suggested that the Giants did not allow a lot of yards to tight ends. However, that was incorrect and was edited later in the week. That chart has been fixed for this week as well.

#NarrativeStreet Meets a Good Matchup

By now, we all know about the Buffalo Bills quarterback situation. Tyrod Taylor is getting back the job this week that he should never have lost. He'll be angry; he'll have something to prove; so you should start him in your fantasy contest of choice. While all of those things might be true, the real reason is the matchup. Kansas City has been bad against the passing game but has also been susceptible to running quarterbacks.

  • Kansas City allows 18.9 rushing yards per game to quarterbacks, seventh-most in the NFL.
  • Kansas City has allowed 20+ rushing yards to five quarterbacks.
  • The only quarterbacks who have not rushed for double-digit yardage against Kansas City are Eli Manning, Ben Roethlisberger, Philip Rivers, and Tom Brady -- four of the most statuesque passers in the game.

A Potentially Even Worse Pass Defense

While Houston has been bad against the pass recently, Oakland has been bad all year long.

This is a team that allowed Jay Cutler to go 34-42 for 311 yards and 3 touchdowns, with 0 interceptions. Oakland is yielding a 72.3% completion rate, highest in the league by a wide margin (68.1% is second-worst). But before you think the completion percentage is high due to a lack of downfield passing, consider that they allow 7.5 net yards per pass attempt, tied for worst in the league (with Indianapolis). All of this bodes well for Denver's anemic passing game this week. Paxton Lynch is a cheap GPP play in DFS, and Demaryius Thomas and Emmanuel Sanders are flex-worth again in traditional leagues.

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Atlanta Falcons (vs. Tampa Bay Buccaneers)

ATL vs. TB

Commentary

As mentioned in the "Targets" and "Funnel" sections, Tampa Bay is horrendous against the pass, particular against wide receivers. In graphic form, that looks like this:

Player  Wk Rec Yd TD FPs
Kenny Stills 11 7 180 1 34.0
Jarvis Landry 11 6 95 1 20.5
DeVante Parker 11 4 26 0 6.6
Robby Anderson 10 4 85 1 18.5
Jermaine Kearse 10 4 35 0 7.5
Chad Hansen 10 3 33 0 6.3
Ted Ginn 9 4 59 1 15.9
Michael Thomas 9 8 65 0 14.5
Kelvin Benjamin 8 3 39 1 12.9
Curtis Samuel 8 2 15 0 4.6
Devin Funchess 8 2 11 0 3.1
Deonte Thompson 7 4 107 0 17.7
Zay Jones 7 2 17 0 3.7
Andre Holmes 7 2 11 0 3.1
Jordan Matthews 7 2 10 0 3.0
Larry Fitzgerald 6 10 138 1 31.8
John Brown 6 3 63 1 15.3
Chris Hogan 5 8 74 1 21.4
Danny Amendola 5 8 77 0 15.7
Brandin Cooks 5 5 85 0 13.5
Odell Beckham Jr 4 7 90 0 16.0
Brandon Marshall 4 6 46 0 10.6
Sterling Shepard 4 5 54 0 10.4
Stefon Diggs 3 8 173 2 40.3
Adam Thielen 3 5 98 0 14.8
           

This is horrendous. Outside of games against the lowly Bills and the wind-influenced game against Carolina, this is as steady as poor defense goes. Atlanta has been performing better lately but is still waiting to explode. This is the eruption spot. Matt Ryan and Julio Jones are an excellent GPP stack in DFS with ownership likely to be focused on other viable options in their price ranges.

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Los Angeles Rams (vs. New Orleans Saints)

LAR vs. NO

Commentary

This game is projected to be the shootout of the week, but with the way these teams run the ball and their lack of run defense, there's a chance it moves quickly, which would limit points. We discussed the Rams rush defense above in the "Runnel" section, but New Orleans allows 4.7 yards per rush, third-worst in the NFL (and worse than the Rams). Todd Gurley should be the first running back considered for DFS cash games.

Some might be worried that New Orleans might be missing star rookie cornerback Marshon Lattimore, which would help the passing game. But a strong passing game correlates positively with fantasy production for running backs (especially ones who can catch passes). After all, the running back can still score six fantasy points with just one touch and one yard if the passing game moved the team down the field.

Also in consideration for a flex spot or mid-priced wide receiver is Cooper Kupp. The L.A. target distribution should narrow due to the injury to Robert Woods. Kupp's role might not change (i.e. he's likely to still be utilized out of the slot), but he has shown that he has the trust of Jared Goff, which could mean he absorbs at least a few of the targets previously allocated to Woods.

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Kansas City Chiefs (vs. Buffalo Bills)

KC vs. BUF

Commentary

It's been well-documented that Buffalo's rush defense is a disaster. After all, they allow 38.4% of their total points via rushing touchdowns, the highest ratio in the NFL. However, the entire defensive unit has been exploitable.

Kansas City laid an egg last week; look for them to bounce back strong here in another case where #NarrativeStreet just so happens to have a great matchup supporting it.

Alex Smith is the safest DFS play priced under $7,000 at DraftKings, and he's well under that mark at $6,500. Kareem Hunt is also safe and should have some touchdown regression coming due to the volume he's still seeing. In fact, getting Smith, Hunt, and the aforementioned Gurley in the same lineup is achievable this week with a few mid-priced "cheap targets" wide receivers.

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New Orleans (at Los Angeles Rams)

NO at LAR

Commentary

That New Orleans offense is pretty efficient on a per-play basis, aren't they? But as mentioned above, as long as this game stays close, look for the Saints to run the ball. The 29.8% of their total points scored via rushing touchdowns is the fourth-highest such ratio in the NFL. Meanwhile, the 32.3% of total points allowed by L.A. via rushing touchdowns is the second-highest such ratio in the NFL.

And against the pass, they are excellent across the board, per Football Outsiders DVOA vs. each receiver type. They rank 11th against WR1s, 5th against WR2s, 12th against Other WRs, 6th against TEs, and 9th against RBs. That average ranking is 8.6 across all positions, the best such average in the NFL. That said, the volume Michael Thomas is getting is remarkably consistent. We had a discussion about Thomas, volume, and touchdown potential on our Power Grid show this week. In full PPR scoring, he's worth the price. But in half-PPR, where scoring is more touchdown dependent, it's tough to pay up for him in this matchup.

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Seattle Seahawks (at San Francisco 49ers)

SEA at SF

Commentary

Before going deeper, we'll just get the Seattle passing game out of the way. Russell Wilson is the best for-the-money cash game play at quarterback, and Doug Baldwin is in top-three such status among wide receivers. And a player leading the NFL in red zone targets is always in play, which makes Jimmy Graham worth consideration in all format as well.

This is an interesting run game analysis because Seattle hasn't figured out its running game, but San Francisco is very poor against the run. Seattle is likely to figure out the run game here due to some combination of efficiency (bad defense) and volume (favorable game script). But whether that mix of efficiency and volume can find its way to one player for fantasy value remains to be seen. J.D. McKissic handled the majority of the snaps in Week 11 with Thomas Rawls a healthy scratch. However, Mike Davis began the game running well and got hurt. McKissic also had a negative game script in his favor.

 Player Wk Rsh Yd TD Rec Yd TD FPs
Orleans Darkwa 10 14 70 0 2 18 0 12.8
Adrian Peterson 9 37 159 0 2 8 0 20.7
LeGarrette Blount 8 16 48 1 1 4 0 12.2
Corey Clement 8 10 54 0 0 0 0 5.4
Ezekiel Elliott 7 26 147 2 1 72 1 43.9
Chris Thompson 6 16 33 0 4 105 0 20.8
Samaje Perine 6 9 23 0 3 24 1 13.7
Marlon Mack 5 9 91 1 1 2 0 16.3
Frank Gore 5 14 48 0 3 38 0 11.6
Andre Ellington 4 5 18 0 9 86 0 19.4
Chris Johnson 4 13 32 0 3 31 0 9.3
Todd Gurley 3 28 113 2 5 36 1 40.9
Chris Carson 2 20 93 0 1 7 0 11
Jonathan Stewart 1 18 65 0 2 17 1 16.2
Christian McCaffrey 1 13 47 0 5 38 0 12.5
                 

As you can see, San Francisco cna be beaten by all types of backs. McKissic is very cheap and is palatable at DraftKings due to the full PPR scoring. But the super contrarian play is Rawls, who might get 15 carries in the second half alone if Seattle leads by multiple touchdowns and doesn't want to over-exert its more integral players.

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Tennessee Titans (at Indianapolis Colts)

TEN at IND

Commentary

This one is a shout-out to Power Grid colleague Jeff Pasquino, who said on our show this week that this game would go over 60 points -- sixty! While I won't go out on that same limb, I will say that this game could be the sneaky shootout, as long as Jacoby Brissett plays. As you can see from the green boxes above, Indianapolis has a dreadful pass defense. Not pictured, Tennessee's isn't much better (they're 28th in fantasy points per game allowed to wide receivers). One thing worth noting is Indianapolis' performance against some notable WR1s this season. They give up plenty of production to wide receivers, but much of it is touchdown-based, especially against top receivers.

Based on experience and production, Rishard Matthews is the WR1 for Tennessee. That leaves Corey Davis, whose breakout has been anticipated for quite some time, and Delanie Walker as the main pass-catchers for the Titans. Both Davis and Walker are good plays -- Davis for GPPs, Walker for all formats.

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Questions, comments, suggestions, and other feedback on this piece are always welcome via e-mail hester@footballguys.com