This deep into the season season-to-date rankings for offensive and defensive units seem to be reliable, but injuries and other changes in personnel and scheme can cause year-to-date rankings that conceal value in running games, passing games, rush defenses and pass defenses. This week’s buy low/sell high will focus on units that are heading in a different direction than year-to-date rankings or established 2017 conventional wisdom would dictate.
Jacksonville run defense - The Jaguars have given up 4.5 yards per carry and are considered a “funnel” defense - that is, their pass defense is so good that opponents are encouraged to run against them. The Titans, Rams, Ravens and Jets all had success running the ball against them earlier this year. Enter Marcell Dareus and the Jaguars have now become a stonewall defense against the run. They are allowing about 2.5 yards per carry the last two weeks, although they have been leaky against receiving running backs, giving up three scores to backs through the air in those games. J.D. McKissic is probably the best poised to take advantage of this change in Week 14.
Tennessee pass offense - The Titans are in the bottom half of the league in yards per attempt and passing yards. They have thrown nine touchdowns against 12 interceptions. Those numbers reflect a passing offense that has been without rookie Corey Davis for most of the year and dealt with injuries to Marcus Mariota and a residence on the injury report for Delanie Walker. Davis has knocked off the rust and should start to grow, Walker and Mariota are healthy, and the Titans get to face the Jaguars pass defense in fantasy meaningless (at least it should be) Week 17. Two of Mariota’s three highest pass yardage totals on the season came in the last two games and the upcoming schedule of Indianapolis, Houston, Arizona, and San Francisco should clear this passing game for takeoff.
Oakland run offense - The Oakland running game has been a disaster one year after finishing sixth in the league in yards and rushing scores, 10th in yards per attempt, and 11th in attempts. All of the key personnel on offense is back, and the team added Marshawn Lynch, who had looked like an upgrade from Latavius Murray in Week 1 and many times since then. This year, they are 27th in rushing yards and 32nd in rush attempts. That change is inexplicable, but with no margin for error to make the playoffs, a passing game that is doing the team no favors, and Lynch still looking like one of the freshest players on the field, it is time to rely on the running game. Upcoming matchups against Denver, the Giants, and Dallas should all set up for running game friendly scripts.
New England pass defense - The Patriots were due to set all-time marks of ignominy through six weeks this year. They still can’t generate a pass rush, but the secondary has gotten healthy and the team has clamped down against the pass. No quarterback has gone over 237 passing yards or one score against them in the last four games after all six went over 300 passing yards and five of the six threw for multiple scores in the first six games. The Patriots face the Dolphins and Bills twice each in the last five weeks and might not inflate the value of the parts of their passing games as much as we expected a month ago.
New York Giants defense - The Giants defense put together the worst set of back-to-back performances against the Rams and 49ers that you will see in most years, although the Bills are trying to give them a run for their money. That all came to a halt last week after Evan Engram and Ben McAdoo got the team’s attention and the defense didn’t give up easy touchdowns because of blown assignments and poor effort. Janoris Jenkins is also back and up to his ball thieving ways again and Olivier Vernon’s shoulder issue looks like a one-week thing at most. Don’t expect the Giants to make fringe players startable and functional players elite going forward.
Buffalo run defense - What Marcell Dareus added to the Jaguars run defense he took away from the Bills run defense. The Bills as a team also seem to be demoralized and it is possible that Sean McDermott has lost their attention. A home crowd that fueled them to four straight wins won’t be as rabid after what they have seen over the last three weeks. Running games are getting right against the Bills and the offense isn’t doing the defense any game script or field position favors. The Bills are not going to be a run defense to avoid against the Patriots in Weeks 13 and 16.
Kansas City offense - The Chiefs had the look of one of the best all-around offenses in the league back in September, now they are struggling to score touchdowns again. They have only scored one touchdown on a sustained offense drive in the last two weeks. Kareem Hunt has failed to get over 77 total yards in each of the last three games. Tyreek Hill has failed to get over 68 receiving yards, and were it not for a Cowboys team that went into the locker room one play before the end of the half in Week 9, he would have had no scores during that span. Travis Kelce is the only one continuing to meet or exceed expectations here. This offense that looked like one of the league’s most overachieving units to open the year is back to their underachieving ways.
Washington pass offense - You have to give it up for Kirk Cousins, who has been pressing on through injuries to his whole offensive line, Terrelle Pryor, Jordan Reed, and Jamison Crowder. Crowder is at least healthy, but Cousins just lost Chris Thompson, who has been an explosive safety valve. Cousins had a nice day against the Saints in Week 11, but so did Samaje Perine, and Washington should be competitive enough for the rest of the season to allow the offense to have a more balanced attack, like they did in their road win over the Rams in Week 2, when the running backs had 36 carries.
Houston run offense - The Texans are somehow sixth in the league in rush attempts and yards, but those numbers are inflated by games where Deshaun Watson kept defenses off balance and opened up lanes for Lamar Miller and D’Onta Foreman. The running game came back with a vengeance last week against the Cardinals, but Foreman was responsible for the better part of that and he left the game with an achilles tear and landed on injured reserve. Tom Savage is simply not good enough to force defenses to respect the pass, and the running game will suffer for it. They are not nearly as good as their rankings suggest.
New Orleans defense - The Saints defense was thought of as one of the worst units in the league after Sam Bradford made them look like they were facing Kurt Warner and the greatest show on turf in Week 1. Tom Brady was successful enough to convince us that the Saints would be a matchup to target going forward. By Week 10, they were on the verge of being a shutdown unit, and we were lowering expectations for Washington in Week 11. The team lost rookie all-world corner Marshon Lattimore (who could return soon, but was in a walking boot on Wednesday and the team did sign two corners this week), and resurgent defensive end Alex Okafor. All of the sudden, they were back to the hapless defense that was leaving receivers wide open in the red zone and end zone, and Washington had a 15-point lead late in the fourth quarter. The team was able to win with the help of one good run stop from the defense, but they also gave up three quick easy receptions to Jamison Crowder that could have set up a game-winning field goal if Kirk Cousins hadn’t committed an ill-timed intentional grounding penalty. Jared Goff and the multi-faceted Rams defense will be a test this week that could swing the Saints defense to neutral, trending toward one to target with two matchups against the Falcons and one against Carolina left on the schedule.
Seattle pass defense - The Legion of Boom died with a whimper this year. Richard Sherman and Kam Chancellor are injured reserve, and the defense looked very mortal against Matt Ryan on Monday night. Seattle is a top ten defense on paper in terms of completion percentage, yards per attempt, and passing touchdowns allowed. That isn’t a good indicator of their vulnerability against opponents like Philadelphia and the Rams still left on the schedule.
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