The Most Wonderful Time of the Year
Of course, I'm referring not only to the holiday season but to fantasy football championship season. This is the week, if you're still fortunate and skillful enough to be playing in your traditional league, that you cash in on all of your efforts from draft day to now. Ideally, if you're a regular reader here, you're in at least one championship showdown. More ideally, this column helped make you smarter and played a role in getting you there. But whether you're a regular here or a new reader looking for that one great nugget of info to help you make a lineup decision, go with your gut. Take the info you gather here and let it play a role, but ultimately, you know your team. Make your own call.
Thanks for reading, and thanks for being a Footballguy! Merry Christmas to all.
Graphics Tutorial and Reader’s Guide
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.
- 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.
This week, we'll discuss the following topics:
- Follow the Targets
- Funnel Watch
- How Will They Score?
- Styles and Profiles
- New Orleans Saints (vs. Atlanta Falcons)
- Philadelphia Eagles (vs. Oakland Raiders)
- Carolina Panthers (vs. Tampa Bay Buccaneers)
- Los Angeles Rams (at Tennessee Titans)
- Dallas Cowboys (vs. Seattle Seahawks)
- Minnesota Vikings (at Green Bay Packers)
Follow the Targets
In this section, we'll look at the worst passing defenses and dissect how they allow their fantasy production. This week, we're looking at the defenses facing the teams projected to score the most passing points this week (see "How Will They Score" section) and how they've allocated their targets, yards, and touchdowns over the course of the whole season.
|Team||RB Tgt%||Yds/Gm Rank||TD||WR Tgt%||Yds/Gm Rank||TD||TE Tgt%||Yds/Gm Rank||TD|
|New York Jets||21.2%||23||4||58.9%||18||15||19.9%||13||8|
|Green Bay Packers||23.5%||28||5||56.4%||23||17||20.1%||10||4|
|Tampa Bay Buccaneers||20.8%||16||2||62.7%||32||16||16.5%||9||3|
- We've shown here before that Oakland is bad against quarterbacks;\, but they're not bad against wide receivers. They have to allow passing production somewhere. That "somewhere" is to tight ends, where the Raiders are worst in the league in yards allowed. As though you need to be told, Zach Ertz is a must-start this week in traditional leagues. He's GPP worthy, even in two-game slates where contrarianism can help.
- Similar to Oakland, Miami is bad against the pass but not horrible against wide receivers. A positive game script should help Kareem Hunt as well, but the resurgence he showed last week in his passing game usage also suggests big things could come again this week.
- The way Tampa Bay allows passing production would point to Devin Funchess being a stronger play than Greg Olsen this week. Both are strong, but if you can't decide, just use the guy throwing them the ball. Cam Newton is the top cash game play of the week.
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).
|Green Bay Packers||240.0||116.4||6.8||4.0||67.3%||32.7%|
- Pittsburgh will be without Antonio Brown, but their passing game is still one to use. JuJu Smith-Schuster should see at least eight targets as the more trusted option compared to Martavis Bryant. Le'Veon Bell should also see an uptick in targets.
- "Non-elite" quarterbacks such as Case Keenum and Nick Foles should continue to surprise anyone who doesn't read this column or think that opposition matchups correlate to fantasy quarterback production.
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)
|Los Angeles Chargers||201.9||128.3||5.6||4.8||61.2%||38.8%|
|Los Angeles Rams||208.1||120.8||5.5||4.7||63.3%||36.7%|
|New Orleans Saints||213.4||115.0||6.0||4.5||65.0%||35.0%|
- It's a shame Detroit can't run the ball well, or else they'd be in a great spot against a team that is poor vs. the run and appears to have given up on their season. Regardless, Theo Riddick is a cash game option at his price, given his recent usage since the team officially soured on Ameer Abdullah.
- Virtually the only chance Tennessee has to keep this game close is to be efficient in the run game vs. the L.A. Rams. The Rams, however, should be productive enough in the passing game to deny that opportunity.
- Seattle hasn't been good vs. the run, and Ezekiel Elliott (plus his fresh legs) are coming back. #ZekeWeek, anyone?
How Will They Score?
I have a confession. What you're about to see and read is not my idea. This is a concept created by Ben Gretch at Rotoviz and now published on FantasyLabs. However, it's one I wanted to share as it is an interesting way to think about how teams score and allow points and can lead to some surprise/contrarian lineup decisions. For some background, check the intro to Ben's Week 1 column from earlier this year, or get a bullet-point summary below.
- Take each team's implied Vegas team total
- Average the percentage of points that team scores via passing touchdowns and the percentage their opponent allows via passing touchdowns
- Multiply that average percentage by the implied total
- Do the same for rushing touchdowns
- Passing + Rushing won't add up to the total. There are kicking and defense/specials teams points as well. However, those aren't as predictable, so we're focusing on offense only.
You'll get the hang of it with the help of the charts and some examples.
|Offense||Defense||LV Total||Off PaTD%||Def PaTD%||Proj. Pass|
|Philadelphia Eagles*||Oakland Raiders||28.25||50.68%||37.04%||12.39|
|Pittsburgh Steelers||Houston Texans*||27.00||45.35%||42.63%||11.88|
|Los Angeles Chargers||New York Jets*||24.75||46.30%||47.37%||11.59|
|Kansas City Chiefs*||Miami Dolphins||27.00||41.78%||42.11%||11.32|
|Seattle Seahawks||Dallas Cowboys*||21.25||56.07%||50.16%||11.29|
|Minnesota Vikings||Green Bay Packers*||24.75||40.23%||46.85%||10.78|
|New Orleans Saints*||Atlanta Falcons||28.75||31.42%||42.55%||10.63|
|Carolina Panthers*||Tampa Bay Buccaneers||28.00||38.07%||37.50%||10.58|
|Washington Redskins*||Denver Broncos||22.25||47.21%||47.56%||10.54|
|Los Angeles Rams||Tennessee Titans*||27.50||32.88%||43.26%||10.47|
- While Philadelphia and Pittsburgh appear here due to their own tendencies (and with season-long stats that aren't aware of the recent injuries to their units), the L.A. Chargers have shades of green next to their name and their opponent's name. Philip Rivers is likely to go overlooked this week after his stinker last week, and if Keenan Allen can't play, Melvin Gordon III is a cash game lock with GPP-winning upside. After being the only player in that offense to exceed expectations last week, Gordon should have the backfield all to himself after Austin Ekeler broke his hand last week.
- Speaking of "double-green," Seattle shows up here. We know that Russell Wilson is nearly the entire offense. After a bad Week 15, will he be under-owned this week? You could do worse; he's viable in any format - even as a cash-game pivot away from Cam Newton.
- New Orleans has the lowest passing points ratio of the bunch, so a nice hedge on their passing game is Alvin Kamara. He's obviously involved in all facets of the offense. More on Kamara and his opponent's tendencies later.
|Offense||Defense||LV Total||Off RuTD%||Def RuTD%||Proj. Rush|
|New England Patriots*||Buffalo Bills||29.25||19.75%||37.25%||8.34|
|Dallas Cowboys*||Seattle Seahawks||25.75||32.14%||26.53%||7.55|
|Carolina Panthers*||Tampa Bay Buccaneers||28.00||25.38%||26.79%||7.30|
|New Orleans Saints*||Atlanta Falcons||28.75||31.42%||17.02%||6.96|
|Tennessee Titans*||Los Angeles Rams||21.00||34.46%||26.47%||6.40|
|Baltimore Ravens*||Indianapolis Colts||27.50||22.61%||22.83%||6.25|
|Jacksonville Jaguars||San Francisco 49ers*||23.50||25.67%||17.80%||5.11|
|Kansas City Chiefs*||Miami Dolphins||27.00||15.04%||21.05%||4.87|
|Atlanta Falcons||New Orleans Saints*||23.25||22.64%||19.15%||4.86|
|Minnesota Vikings||Green Bay Packers*||24.75||22.74%||16.22%||4.82|
- Have we mentioned #ZekeWeek yet?
- Carolina also looks primed for a positive game script and run-based scoring attack.
- As mentioned in the "Targets" section, Kansas City looks capable of scoring in any fashion. They're another in the "team playing for something vs. team playing for nothing" dynamic this week. The passing game could get them up early, but the run game will be salting things away.
- Much like last week, if Tevin Coleman doesn't play, Devonta Freeman is among the best running back plays on the board.
Styles and Profiles
In previous weeks, you may have noticed that we referred to "situation-neutral" playcalling styles. This week, we're going a bit further and looking at the most pass-heavy and run-heavy teams but also showing their opponents and the play rates called against those defenses. Since teams change their style based on game situation, we wanted to normalize their style. In order to do that, we've limited these rates to plays called where the score is +/- seven points, when the play starts between the 20s, and we've removed non-offensive plays from the rates shown. You'll get the hang of it as we go.
Below are the seven most pass-heavy situation-neutral teams and their opponents rate of passes against in the same situations.
|Offensive Team||Pass%||Defensive Team||Pass%|
|Detroit Lions||65.0%||Cincinnati Bengals||57.4%|
|New England Patriots||64.7%||Buffalo Bills||58.9%|
|Los Angeles Rams||62.9%||Tennessee Titans||61.8%|
|Pittsburgh Steelers||62.2%||Houston Texans||57.9%|
|Los Angeles Chargers||62.0%||New York Jets||54.5%|
|New York Giants||61.7%||Arizona Cardinals||61.1%|
|Kansas City Chiefs||61.5%||Miami Dolphins||64.0%|
- We've discussed the Tennessee pass defense throughout the season. They're exploitable, and this neutral situation pass-against rate suggests that their opponents know it. As a bonus factoid, Tennessee has faced the most +/- 7 points plays inside the 20s of any team in the NFL, so this rate isn't influenced by a small sample size.
- The Giants will likely pass often against Arizona, but it's hard to recommend anyone on that team with confidence. As my PowerGrid colleague John Lee noted on our special Tuesday night recording this week, Evan Engram is a potential GPP play with the masses looking to either pay up or pay down at tight end and Engram being in the middle.
- Kansas City has a favorable game script for the run game, but they're still a pass-heavy team against a defense that has been abused by opposing aerial attacks. Kareem Hunt should be a great play again this week, but don't sleep on the passing game. Tyreek Hill is always a GPP play but is borderline cash-viable, while Travis Kelce is the tight end you should start all builds with this week/
Below are the seven most run-heavy situation-neutral teams and their opponents rate of passes against in the same situations.
|Buffalo Bills||50.8%||New England Patriots||42.4%|
|Chicago Bears||49.9%||Cleveland Browns||40.7%|
|Cleveland Browns||48.2%||Chicago Bears||48.4%|
|Dallas Cowboys||47.5%||Seattle Seahawks||39.8%|
|Jacksonville Jaguars||46.9%||San Francisco 49ers||45.7%|
|Indianapolis Colts||45.9%||Baltimore Ravens||43.5%|
|Carolina Panthers||45.6%||Tampa Bay Bucs||42.0%|
- When we see a horrible team/huge underdog with a high rushing percentage in neutral scripts, that must be taken with a grain of salt because those teams aren't likely to stay within seven points for significant chunks of their games. Cleveland is the perfect example of that. Sure, they want to run, but when the game gets away, they won't be able to.
- Chicago is generally the same way. We've seen Jordan Howard have huge games this season, but they don't occur when the team is losing big. This week, though, Chicago should be able to stay neutral-or-better against Cleveland and increase the medium rate of rushes Cleveland generally sees in neutral situations. Howard will go overlooked in cash games but is an attractive GPP option in DFS and an RB2 play in traditional leagues.
- Despite the flashy quarterback and the fact that their "best" running back is a receiver masquerading as a back, Carolina enjoys running the ball. More on this later...
New Orleans Saints (vs. Atlanta Falcons)
We've talked before about attacking Atlanta with running backs. It's ancient memory now, but even the long-since-forgotten Ty Montgomery had a big fantasy day with very little rushing production against Atlanta way back in the first month of the season. Even further back, a player named James White played an integral role in defeating Atlanta in the most recent Super Bowl.
On the season, Atlanta allows 13.3 receiving fantasy points per game to running backs, second-most in the NFL. They have allowed 94 catches to running backs, most in the NFL (second-most is 88). Running backs are targeted on 24.4% of pass attempts against Atlanta, the third-highest rate in the NFL, while New Orleans targets running backs on 31.8% of its passes, the highest rate in the NFL.
So which of the New Orleans dynamic duo should we feel best about this week?
|Week 11||Week 12||Week 13||Week 15|
As you can see, the snaps between these two generally add up to over 100%. That's because Kamara plays snaps from the slot as well as the backfield. In addition to being bad against running backs in the pass game, Atlanta also struggles against slot receivers.
Kamara also ranks fifth among running backs in routes from the slot, while Atlanta is allowing the third-most fantasy points per game to slot receivers for the second-straight season. https://t.co/KlorFM6j7O— Scott Barrett (@ScottBarrettDFB) December 20, 2017
Philadelphia Eagles (vs. Oakland Raiders)
As alluded to in the "Targets" section, Oakland is weak against tight ends. They allow 27.2% of their total yardage to tight ends, the highest rate in the NFL. Philadelphia, meanwhile, gains 30.8% of its total yardage via tight ends, the fourth-highest rate in the league. Philadelphia could also establish the run in a favorable game script. But which back is most usable in fantasy football?
|Week 12||Week 13||Week 14||Week 15|
- Jay Ajayi is beginning to take over the bulk of the workload. Corey Clement is the passing-downs back, but the team only targets its running backs 10.6% of the time, the second-lowest rate in the NFL.
Carolina Panthers (vs. Tampa Bay Buccaneers)
For all the talk this season (and in this column each week) about how bad Tampa Bay is against the pass, they haven't been very good against the run either. The former tends to lead to the latter, as efficient passing games lead to red zone opportunities where running backs can score big points. Negative game script also has a say in the matter. Furthermore, Tampa is also missing plenty of defensive talent, with run-stopper Gerald McCoy and leading tackler Lavonte David both injured. All of those factors have played a role in the success opposing backs have had against Tampa Bay lately.
Call it #NarrativeStreet if you'd like, but Tampa played an emotional game on Monday night against Atlanta. They kept the game close against a superior division rival who had the inside track to the postseason and plenty of motivation. After losing that type of game...at home...on the final play, spirits could be weak, especially going on the road in a short week. Carolina could win this game by multiple touchdowns, leading to plenty of production from all involved. We already covered Newton, but it's worth mentioning that all of his receivers are all viable. Most notably, Greg Olsen is a cash play after his Week 15 resurgence and Devin Funchess is a GPP play after disappointing the masses last week. The only concerns with Funchess are the nagging injury and Olsen stealing a few targets.
But the most contrarian GPP play of all is Jonathan Stewart. We're just two weeks removed from 103 yards and 3 touchdowns against a Minnesota defense much more difficult (and with much more to play for) than this Tampa Bay unit.
Los Angeles Rams (at Tennessee Titans)
Todd Gurley is awesome, but refer to previous mentions of Tennessee's defense, and you'll find that they're bad against the pass. Jared Goff is a solid GPP play as an overlooked option with an elite matchup. The question then becomes, with whom do we stack Goff?
|Week 11||Week 12||Week 13||Week 15|
Robert Woods is clearly this team's WR1. The 76.2% of Week 11 targets represents 11 targets. The week prior, Woods saw 10 targets. While Cooper Kupp and company filled in admirably in Woods' absences, he came back to clearly be the top receiver in last week's domination of Seattle. The volume wasn't there, but over one-third of team targets is elite company. Woods is a solid play in any format, and unless you're absolutely loaded with three top-10 receivers in your traditional league, you're starting Woods there too.
Dallas Cowboys (vs. Seattle Seahawks)
- In 23 games with Elliott, Prescott has averaged 235.7 passing yards, 1.7 touchdowns, 0.4 interceptions, and 20.49 fantasy points per game.
- In 8 games without Elliott, Prescott has averaged 169.0 yards, 0.7 touchdowns, 1.0 interceptions, and 12.27 fantasy points per game
While you might think a quarterback would produce more due to more reliance on the passing game with a star running back out, Prescott actually thrives with Elliott there.
- Play Elliot in any format, with a lean towards GPPs due to higher ownership of other similarly-priced backs.
- Beware the passing game, despite the Prescott splits above, because Dez Bryant doesn't look like his old self. And with only nine targets in the past two games combined, he doesn't have the volume of his old self either.
Minnesota Vikings (at Green Bay Packers)
Minnesota's game plan has been somewhat simple. They want to stay balanced but attack their opponents' weaknesses. When they run, they do so with a split backfield that favors Latavius Murray more in high margin-of-victory wins (he gets more carries) and Jerick McKinnon in more neutral/negative scripts.
|Week 12||Week 13||Week 14||Week 15|
Week 14 was the only loss of the games shown here, and it's the only one that breaks the general theme here. If we think Minnesota will win handily, believe in both players as upside RB2s in traditions league and as GPP plays in DFS.Action Items
- Now favored by double-digits without Aaron Rodgers for Green Bay, Minnesota is in line for a very positive script. If rostering a Minnesota back in this game, play Murray for the floor and McKinnon for the ceiling.
- Green Bay's pass defense is horrific. Don't forget about Case Keenum.
Questions, comments, suggestions, and other feedback on this piece are always welcome via e-mail email@example.com