#Trendspotting: Week 15 - Footballguys

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

Reader's Guide

As you read, you may run into some colors in the text. Blue text is a good matchup for that team's offensive players. Red text is a bad matchup. Some other key items are below:

  • All red/blue highlighting in tables is relative to the entire NFL, even when showing only a limited number of teams.
  • All reference to fantasy points assumes DraftKings scoring rules unless otherwise specified.
  • All stats reference the full 2018 season unless otherwise specified.

This week, we'll discuss the following topics:

Tempo, Tempo, Tempo

How fast teams play is an often-overlooked piece of fantasy analysis and projections. If teams play fast, they give their players more chances for production. Because offenses have more control over tempo than defenses, we'll look at the fastest offenses and how fast the offense of their Week 15 opponent plays.

Note: the pace rankings here are based on neutral situations, so end-game situations that would increase or decrease pace due to factors beyond a team's general preference have been excluded.

Uptempo Offense Pace Rank Week 15 Opponent Pace Rank
New England Patriots 1 Pittsburgh Steelers 9
Indianapolis Colts 2 Dallas Cowboys 22
Los Angeles Rams 3 Philadelphia Eagles 26
Baltimore Ravens 4 Tampa Bay Buccaneers 6
Denver Broncos 5 Cleveland Browns 17
Tampa Bay Buccaneers 6 Baltimore Ravens 4
Kansas City Chiefs 7 Los Angeles Chargers 13
Houston Texans 8 New York Jets 29
Both columns show offensive tempo rankings. 

Commentary and Action Items

As you can see in the top-right of the table, Pittsburgh's offense has the ninth-fastest tempo in neutral situations, so this week features two matchups of top-nine pace teams.

The other high-paced matchup is Baltimore vs. Tampa Bay. Baltimore's offense has been run-focused since Lamar Jackson became the starter, but run-heavy doesn't always correlate with low-tempo. Despite running on 59.1% of neutral script plays, the highest percentage in the NFL, Baltimore runs a play every 29.6 seconds, the fourth-fastest neutral script pace of play.

Tampa Bay runs an offensive play every 29.8 seconds, the sixth-fastest neutral script pace of play. They also allow far more production in road games than they do at home. The following table was shown in this week's Rent-a-Quarterback column. If you're unfamiliar, check it out.

Venue Pts/Gm Total Yds Pass Yds
Home 20.6 357.1 240.0
Road 39.8 423.8 301.8

Tampa Bay is a more attractive matchup to passing games than running games, which might suggest that Jackson isn't the type of quarterback capable of exploiting the matchup. The other side of that coin is that Tampa Bay's inability to stop opposing passers only helps to raise Jackson's ceiling. Baltimore has made it clear that they are going to do things their way. But as key third down and other passing situations occur, Jackson should have an easier time converting than he has in some of his other matchups this season.

Between the ability to produce fantasy points via the run and the opposing defense's weaknesses helping to sustain drives, Jackson's ceiling is higher than ever this week. Unless late-week rumors suggest Joe Flacco will have a significant role, don't be afraid to play Jackson this week.

At this point, the bigger reason for concern with Jackson is in-game injury, not Flacco's involvement. Jackson is a QB1 in season-long formats, someone you could start over Aaron Rodgers this week. In DFS, he's a GPP play because the injury risk is real, and there are more attractive options at the same price (Tom Brady) or cheaper (Dak Prescott).

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Going Deep

For this section, a "deep attempt" is a pass 15 or more yards downfield. All numbers shown are over the last five weeks.

Offensive Team Att./Gm. Deep% Defensive Team Att./Gm. Deep%
Buffalo Bills 2.8 9.1% Detroit Lions 3.1 10.0%
Seattle Seahawks 2.3 8.7% San Francisco 49ers 1.8 5.1%
Chicago Bears 2.8 8.6% Green Bay Packers 2.6 7.9%
Kansas City Chiefs 3.0 8.1% Los Angeles Chargers 1.5 4.5%
Tampa Bay Buccaneers 3.1 7.7% Baltimore Ravens 2.2 6.1%
Washington Redskins 2.5 7.4% Jacksonville Jaguars 2.5 7.9%
Los Angeles Rams 2.5 7.2% Philadelphia Eagles 3.1 7.9%
Green Bay Packers 2.8 7.2% Chicago Bears 1.9 5.0%
"Att/Gm." = deep pass attempts per game
"Deep%" = the percentage of passes that are deep attempts


Since Week 10:

  • Buffalo attempts a deep pass on 9.1% of its attempts, the highest percentage in the NFL.
  • Detroit faces a deep pass on 10.0% of attempts against, the highest percentage.
  • Robert Foster has an average depth-of-target (aDOT) of 24.3 yards (on 19 targets), tied for first in the NFL among players with at least six targets in that span.
  • Foster has two 100-yard games in his last four and is the WR24 in PPR scoring since Week 12 (Josh Allen's return and the first game after the team's bye week).
  • The Rams attempt 2.5 deep passes per game, eighth-most in the NFL.
  • Philadelphia faces 3.1 deep attempts per game, most in the NFL.
  • Over the last five weeks, the Rams receivers have the following aDOTs: Robert Woods - 12.9 yards (38 targets), Brandin Cooks - 11.8 yards (37 targets), Josh Reynolds - 11.7 (20 targets).

Very few season-long players want any part of the Buffalo duo mentioned above. But if it were Week 9 with six teams on a bye week instead of Week 15 with a bunch of players injured, Allen would be a Rent-a-Quarterback QB1 candidate while Foster would be a "what the heck flex" at worst.

Foster could reasonably be projected anywhere from WR30 to WR60. For fantasy GMs who feel they need upside, he's worth a shot over players like Mohamed Sanu, Quincy Enunwa, Donte Moncrief, and Randall Cobb, all of whom are project ahead of Foster by the great David Dodds at the time of this publication.

For the record, David is the best at projections. But when we get to a 9.7-point projection vs. a 10.4, it's important to remember how razor-thin that margin is. Think of how players profile, how their range of outcomes can vary, and make your decision based on that. For example, Moncrief is projected at 9.4 while Foster is 8.7. Moncrief has a floor around 3 points and a ceiling not much higher than 12-14. Foster, meanwhile, has a floor closer to his projection with a ceiling higher due to his deep ball ability and emerging role in the offense.

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Stocking Stuffers

Here are some tidbits found on Twitter this week with some advice/analysis on what to do with the information for your Week 15 fantasy contests and matchups. In the spirit of the holiday season, consider these miscellaneous-yet-unrelated gifts, a la the kind that would go in your Christmas stocking.

Buffalo Bombers

We mentioned the Allen-Foster combo in the section above, and Rotoworld's Evan Silva tweeted some interesting numbers about them earlier this week. Are they due to regress, or is this a hot streak to ride?

It's not only deep passes where Detroit has been a friendly matchup. Detroit ranks 29th (fourth-easiest matchup) vs. quarterbacks in Normalized Strength of Schedule (NSoS) over the last five weeks and 31st vs. wide receivers in the same metric.

Denver Dynamics

The Broncos are not a must-watch offense, but they are an intriguing combination of youth, excitement, and accessibility. In terms of "accessibility," it's in the form of cheap DFS prices or season-long waiver wire availability. First, the running back situation:

Denver is a home favorite, which should always raise our antennae. And Cleveland hasn't been the most difficult rushing matchup lately. Let's take a more detailed look at the Denver running back usage:

Week 11 Week 12 Week 13 Week 14
Player Snaps Car Tgts Snaps Car Tgts Snaps Car Tgts Snaps Car Tgts
Phillip Lindsay 57.1% 61.1% 16.1% 63.2% 70.0% 0.0% 42.4% 59.4% 5.3% 64.9% 66.7% 18.4%
Royce Freeman 23.2% 38.9% 3.2% 26.3% 30.0% 0.0% 35.6% 37.5% 5.3% 12.2% 28.6% 0.0%
Devontae Booker 19.6% 0.0% 3.2% 10.5% 0.0% 7.1% 22.0% 3.1% 10.5% 23.0% 0.0% 5.3%
Team Total 56 18 31 57 20 28 59 32 19 74 21 38

It's clear that Lindsay is dominating this backfield, leading the team in snaps, carries, and targets in nearly every game over the last four. The lone exception is Week 13, where Denver dominated a woeful Cincinnati team. In that game, Lindsay -- the alleged "pass-catching back" -- led the team in carries but shared snaps and had fewer targets than his backfield mates. In Week 14, with Denver trailing, Lindsay dominated the shares in all three categories.

Make no mistake, this is as close to feature-back usage as we see in today's NFL, with the exception of the true bell cow backs (Ezekiel Elliott, Todd Gurley, Christian McCaffrey, etc). Lindsay is a bona fide RB1 in season-long formats and a fine play in all DFS formats.

As for Denver's wide receivers in a post-Emmanuel Sanders world, it's interesting that the one pegged for the slot role (typically not as many snaps as the perimeter players) played the most snaps.

Examining the production, it's notable that the most popular play (Sutton) was out-produced by both of the up-and-comers.

Player Snaps Tgt Rec Yds TD
Courtland Sutton 51 6 2 14 0
Tim Patrick 64 10 7 85 0
DaeSean Hamilton 72 9 7 47 1
Total 74 38 24 186 1

That could be due to Sutton's injury, or perhaps it's because Sutton isn't yet ready for elite WR1 coverage. There are two things to watch this week: if Cleveland uses Denzel Ward to shadow Sutton; and if Sutton can overcome that to produce. For fantasy purposes, the better hedge is to play DaeSean Hamilton. As the slot player, he won't see much (if any) of Ward. And he played more snaps than any Denver receiver last week.

Dallas Since the Deal

Many ridiculed the trade for Amari Cooper, but no wide receiver has been better in fantasy football since that trade. And few quarterbacks have been better than Dak Prescott. And not that we care as much for the purposes of this article, but the team is doing well too.

Indianapolis is tough against wide receivers. To expand, here are the percentages of passing production allowed by the Colts this season:

  • 49.7% of passing yardage to wide receivers, the lowest percentage in the NFL.
  • 44.4% of receptions to wide receivers, lowest.
  • 48.3% of targets to wide receivers, lowest.

However, the Colts are a middling team against the pass overall, ranking 18th in passing yardage allowed. They do yield production to other positions.

  • 21.5% of passing yardage to running backs, the fifth-highest percentage.
  • 29.5% of receptions to running backs, highest.
  • 27.5% of targets to running backs, highest.
  • 28.8% of passing yardage to tight ends, third-highest.
  • 26.0% of receptions to tight ends, third.
  • 24.2% of targets to tight ends, second.

Since the Dallas offense transformed into a dynamic unit, it has been mostly due to Cooper. But the team has other weapons it can use against Indianapolis in what could be a high-scoring affair. Prescott is still a high-floor quarterback option, with an overall QB7-10 ceiling.

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Looks Can Be Deceiving

Viewing raw "defense vs. position" stats can be misleading, as it makes no consideration for the strength of opponents. So, in this section, we're going to compare our Normalized Strength of Schedule (NSoS) vs. raw Defense vs. Position (DvP) and find notable deltas between the two. The idea is to find defenses to target that other DFS players might not.

In past weeks, we compared NSoS over the most recent five weeks vs. DvP for the season, but that felt somewhat "apples to oranges." Therefore, this version compares both measures over the past five weeks.

vs. Quarterbacks
Team NSoS DvP Delta
New England Patriots 31 16 -15
Tennessee Titans 24 11 -13
Green Bay Packers 22 10 -12
Detroit Lions 29 20 -9
Indianapolis Colts 18 9 -9
Pittsburgh Steelers 15 6 -9
"NSoS" = Normalized Strength of Schedule ranking over the last five weeks
"DvP" = Defense vs. Position (raw fantasy points allowed) ranking over the last five weeks
"Delta" = Difference between rankings (NSoS minus DvP)

Commentary and Action Items

The beauty of NSoS is that it provides context. For instance, New England has recent games against Ryan Tannehill, a struggling Kirk Cousins, Josh McCown, and Marcus Mariota. None of those present the level of on-paper challenge as Ben Roethlisberger in Pittsburgh.

Pittsburgh gains 78.2% of its total yardage via the pass, the second-highest percentage in the NFL. Meanwhile, New England allows 69.7% of its total yardage via the pass, the 10th-highest percentage. Despite New England's average-looking recent results, Roethlisberger has overall QB1 upside in season-long leagues and is a high-end DFS option (even in cash games) due to his floor and upside.

On the other hand, Detroit is a team that has been bad on a raw fantasy points allowed basis but even worse when considering context. Their recent schedule includes games against Josh Rosen, Jared Goff, Chase Daniel, Cam Newton, and Mitchell Trubisky. Newton and Trubisky -- both known as much for rushing as passing -- each passed for over 350 yards and 3 touchdowns against Detroit. If not for limiting Goff to 207 yards and a single touchdown, Detroit might be the worst NSoS team in the league over the last five weeks.

This further builds the case for Josh Allen. Similar to what was discussed with Lamar Jackson above, Allen's rushing production helps build a floor. The softer passing matchup provides less resistance to sustaining drives and opens up the deep ball opportunities discussed above. Both of these factors increase Allen's ceiling.

vs. Running Backs
Team NSoS DvP Delta
Cleveland Browns 27 7 -20
Baltimore Ravens 21 6 -15
Jacksonville Jaguars 26 11 -15
Green Bay Packers 21 12 -9
Tennessee Titans 12 4 -8

Commentary and Action Items

Cleveland has yielded 100+ total yards to an individual running back in three of its last four games. They've only allowed two total touchdowns to running backs during that span, thus improving their raw DvP ranking. Cleveland has also had the benefit of game script to help, having won three of its last four games and controlling the game for the majority of those efforts. But don't sleep on the aforementioned Phillip Lindsay, especially since Denver is favored to win the game this week.

vs. Wide Receivers
Team NSoS DvP Delta
New England Patriots 29 18 -11
Buffalo Bills 11 3 -8
Atlanta Falcons 11 4 -7
Tennessee Titans 28 22 -6
Los Angeles Rams 22 17 -5

Commentary and Action Items

New England allows its aerial production evenly relative to the rest of the league, ranking in the middle of percentage of targets, receptions, and yardage allowed at each position. But offense is the proactive force in football, and Pittsburgh has a concentrated distribution of opportunities. Pittsburgh targets its wide receivers on 62.9% of its pass attempts, the fifth-highest percentage in the NFL.

Week 11 Week 12 Week 13 Week 14
Player Snaps Tgt Yds Snaps Tgt Yds Snaps Tgt Yds Snaps Tgt Yds
Antonio Brown 64 13 117 72 13 67 67 13 154 59 7 35
JuJu Smith-Schuster 61 10 104 66 17 189 60 9 49 52 12 130
Team Total 65 45 314 78 57 462 68 45 281 60 37 306

Each Pittsburgh receiver has a huge game, a stinker, and two average-to-good games in the team's last four outings. Is JuJu Smith-Schuster closing the WR1 gap between him and Antonio Brown? If DFS players believe that to be the case, now is the time to invest in Smith-Schuster while his price tag remains below Brown's.

vs. Tight Ends
Team NSoS DvP Delta
Green Bay Packers 25 10 -15
Buffalo Bills 14 1 -13
Los Angeles Rams 32 22 -10
New England Patriots 22 15 -7
Carolina Panthers 19 13 -6
Miami Dolphins 30 24 -6

Commentary and Action Items

Of all offensive positions, DvP and NSoS stats vs. tight ends are the "noisiest" (i.e. hardest to predict). But where fantasy points allowed and offensive scheme meet is Philadelphia vs. the L.A. Rams. Zach Ertz is a player fantasy GMs should be scared to face this week in season-long formats.

As for DFS, if NSoS is to be believed, Trey Burton has a nice matchup against Green Bay. But he hasn't had more than 40 yards since Week 7, making him a very difficult choice.

Tight end continues to be a "pay-up or punt" position. This week, with Ertz and Travis Kelce off the DFS main slate, the high-end options are Eric Ebron and George Kittle. The buy-down options are Vernon Davis and Ricky Seals-Jones. It seems like a week where paying up is the better choice.

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Fantasy Points Allowed Cheat Sheet

This is a raw Defense vs. Position look over the last five weeks, sorted alphabetically by team. Don't use this as your sole resource for making lineup/DFS decisions, but it's a nice tiebreaker to have all in one place for those make-or-break, difficult decisions.

Arizona Cardinals 8 28 14 16
Atlanta Falcons 22 29 4 9
Baltimore Ravens 6 6 1 28
Buffalo Bills 1 21 3 1
Carolina Panthers 28 9 32 13
Chicago Bears 3 15 20 4
Cincinnati Bengals 20 32 8 11
Cleveland Browns 19 7 19 25
Dallas Cowboys 13 1 10 32
Denver Broncos 18 5 24 31
Detroit Lions 20 16 29 6
Green Bay Packers 10 12 26 10
Houston Texans 23 3 23 26
Indianapolis Colts 9 19 1 21
Jacksonville Jaguars 15 11 7 27
Kansas City Chiefs 31 22 15 30
Los Angeles Chargers 2 23 5 5
Los Angeles Rams 30 17 17 22
Miami Dolphins 32 14 27 24
Minnesota Vikings 4 20 6 2
New England Patriots 16 26 18 15
New Orleans Saints 11 2 16 7
New York Giants 14 25 13 23
New York Jets 24 7 30 17
Oakland Raiders 28 9 9 29
Philadelphia Eagles 26 31 28 18
Pittsburgh Steelers 6 18 11 20
Seattle Seahawks 27 30 21 19
San Francisco 49ers 24 13 31 3
Tampa Bay Buccaneers 5 27 12 14
Tennessee Titans 11 4 22 8
Washington Redskins 17 24 25 12

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

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