Welcome to the Week 12 Walkthrough, outlining critical fantasy football context for this 12th, glorious week of football.
At the end of this article, I've included an extensive list of the stats used, what they are, why they're useful, and where they came from. As a heads up, I use some terms interchangeably below:
- Routes per dropback = route rate = route % = route participation
- Targets per route run = target rate
Already Played: Bills, Lions, Giants, Cowboys, Patriots, Vikings
Ravens at Jaguars, 1 PM Eastern, Sunday
Ravens Implied Team Total: 23.75
To start the season, the Ravens were surprisingly pass-heavy—with a 5% pass rate over expected from Weeks 1-4. But with injuries to Rashod Bateman and Mark Andrews, the Ravens have shifted to the run in recent weeks. Since Week 7, they have a -6% PROE.
But even over that stretch, the Ravens have been balanced on first down. This is a sign that they still prefer to prioritize the pass when possible. They'll have that opportunity this week, facing a Jaguars pass defense that ranks 28th in PFF's coverage grades.
In terms of EPA allowed per dropback, the Jaguars don't rate all that poorly. However, Jacksonville has had an exceedingly easy schedule. Before getting lit up by Patrick Mahomes in Week 10, they had a five-game run against Davis Mills, Matt Ryan, Daniel Jones, Russell Wilson, and Derek Carr. Jackson's efficiency hasn't been great this season, but he has been solid, ranking 15th in EPA per play. He could be in for one of his better games of the year.
Jackson is much better positioned to take advantage of this soft passing matchup now that Mark Andrews is off the Ravens' injury report. Andrews' receiving profile is off-the-charts good, and not just for a tight end but for any player. Among all NFL players with 100+ routes, Andrews has a 96th-percentile target rate, a 97th-percentile first-read target rate, and a 98th-percentile target share. He's a dominant receiver who just happens to play tight end.
Andrews has an elite 2.12 yards per route run, but remarkably, he's underperforming his target volume. Andrews' 7.7 yards per target is over a yard lower than expected for his 10.6 average depth of target. If Andrews is more efficient on his targets in this very favorable passing matchup, he could be a slate-breaker.
Outside of Andrews, Demarcus Robinson looks most likely to benefit from this matchup. In terms of route participation, Devin Duvernay still looks like the Ravens' top wide receiver. He ran a route on 95% of dropbacks against the Panthers, with Robinson at just 81%. However, Duvernay has had far more trouble earning targets. He has a very poor 13% target rate, which helps explain his uninspiring 1.33 YPRR. Robinson's 1.47 YPRR isn't all that much better than Duvernay's, but his underlying volume is much more impressive. Robinson has a solid 20% target rate, and the Ravens are calling plays with him in mind. Robinson has seen a first-read target on 18% of his routes, a higher rate than Rashod Bateman (16%) had this season, and is over twice Duvernay's 8% rate. Duvernay will run a few extra routes, but Robinson looks like the better Ravens dart throw.
The Ravens backfield is difficult to parse now that Gus Edwards is practicing in full. Even last week, Kenyan Drake only had a 51% snap share, with Justice Hill at 41%. Edwards' returns to the rotation will create a three-man committee like we saw in Week 7 when Drake, Hill, and Edwards played between 27% and 31% of snaps. All three should be avoided if possible.
Jaguars Implied Team Total: 19.75
The Jaguars have been a balanced team this season with a -1% PROE and a -2% PROE on 1st-and-10. They're operating similarly to the Rams.
But unlike the Rams, the Jaguars have some playmaking ability in their backfield. And so even when they limit passing attempts, the Jaguars still have the potential to put up points, thanks to Travis Etienne's explosive ability. This matchup should suit them well, given that the Ravens are mediocre against both the run and the pass.
Etienne is plenty capable of taking advantage of a middling run defense. The second-year star ranks fourth in NFL Next Gen's rush yards over expected / attempt and eighth in success rate. While some explosive running backs offer playmaking ability at the expense of consistency, Etienne consistently churns out positive yards while also delivering game-changing runs.
Etienne has also played on at least 78% of snaps in four straight games. His explosive profile and true workhorse usage make Etienne one of the best plays at running back this week.
In the passing game, things are frustratingly spread out. Christian Kirk is the top option, but his lead over his teammates isn't very impressive. In terms of per-route volume, he's not far ahead of Zay Jones or Marvin Jones. Although, to Kirk's credit, he's the only one doing anything with his target volume.
Kirk looks like a solid WR3 this week. And he has access to a ceiling here if the Ravens are aggressive in putting up points against the Jaguars' weak pass defense—which could push the Jaguars to the air. As they showed against the Chiefs, with a 9% PROE, the Jaguars are willing to air it out if the game script demands it.
Buccaneers at Browns, 1 PM Eastern, Sunday
Buccaneers Implied Team Total: 23
The Buccaneers got a much-needed win in Germany, but they did it unexpectedly—by shifting back to a run-heavy approach.
The Buccaneers have prioritized the run on four previous occasions. With offensive line and wide receiver issues, they were run-heavy in each of their first two games of the season. And they also shifted toward the run in their inexplicable loss to the Steelers in Week 6. They were also balanced with a slight tilt to the run in their win over the Rams. All in all, the Buccaneers are 4-1 with a run-first approach this season. They're 1-4 in every game with a positive PROE.
The bizarre thing about that stat is that the Buccaneers are terrible at running the ball. Even while running the ball somewhat effectively in their win over the Seahawks, their passing game was nearly 20x as efficient as their run game in terms of EPA per play. And even with a competent rushing performance in their last outing, the Buccaneers remain the least efficient rushing offense in the NFL by EPA per play.
I am highly skeptical that this offense is actually better off building its game plans around the run. However, I am very open to the idea that the Buccaneers believe they need to run the ball to maintain their current two-game winning streak. And in this matchup... they may be right.
The Browns' run defense is extremely weak this season, and teams are adjusting their game plan to account for this weakness. This is a team that the Bills just posted a -5% PROE against... they are a run funnel. I doubt we see the Buccaneers go ultra-run-heavy this week, but they are a good bet to have a tilt toward the run based on this matchup and their recent performances.
The Buccaneers may also feel more confident in leaning on the run game now that they appear to have turned things over to rookie Rachaad White. White has struggled as a rusher this season, ranking just 33rd in RYOE / attempt... and that is his most promising rushing metric.
However, Leonard Fournette has also been extremely inefficient. He ranks 28th in NFL Next Gen's success rate but has otherwise been bottom of the barrel. Fournette's play is unlikely to improve this week as he recovers from a hip pointer.
And although White has struggled this season, he ran well in Germany, ranking RB6 in RYOE / attempt in Week 10. He's unlikely to take full advantage of this matchup, but White has some promise of providing an explosive element to the run game—even if he also brings inconsistency to the table.
How much White is used in the passing game will likely come down to the health of Fournette and Gio Bernard, who is now eligible to be activated from injured reserve. White has been a capable receiver, ranking RB18 in YPRR. But the Buccaneers could limit his playing time on pure passing downs, preferring a veteran pass blocker in those situations.
Because even if the Buccaneers prefer to attack this matchup with the run game, their offense still relies on the arm of Tom Brady. Brady is coming off one of his best games of the season. In Week 10, he ranked fourth in EPA per play and second in CPOE. So for once, Brady was in the section of the EPA chart where we expect to see him.
And from an efficiency standpoint, this could be an ideal matchup for Brady. If the Buccaneers are inclined to run the ball at a high rate... we want them to be able to do so efficiently. And while they're not likely to be wildly efficient on the ground this week, a run-first approach shouldn't hurt the offense too severely. And when Brady does drop back, he'll be doing so against a defense that ranks 26th in EPA allowed per dropback and 25th in success rate. And if the Buccaneers unexpectedly lean into the pass, Brady could be efficient on high volume.
This sets up his receivers for solid days with high-end ceilings. And the ceiling of the entire passing offense is higher now that Julio Jones is healthy. Theoretically, Jones should create more target competition for Mike Evans and Chris Godwin. But you have to remember that Jones is replacing Scotty Miller, who had a shockingly high target rate of 23%—tied with Godwin for the team lead. Jones is seeing targets at a lower rate but doing more with them. Jones is also seeing double coverage on 23% of his routes, with Miller at just 14%. By plugging in Julio for Miller, the Buccaneers are pulling defensive attention away from their top two receivers while adding a more explosive downfield element to their passing game. And by removing Miller from the offense, they're freeing up valuable targets that Miller was not doing much with. Miller's target volume was good for an elite 2.07 expected YPRR, but his absolutely brutal 5.0 yards per target was turning that elite volume into drive-killing inefficiency. Julio's involvement is a win for the entire offense.
Julio's presence should help both Mike Evans and Chris Godwin, who are seeing double coverage rates of 23% and 27%. If passing volume is limited, Evans will likely be the stronger bet. His 13.7 aDOT gives him access to big plays. But if the Buccaneers build their game plan around the pass, Chris Godwin's 23% target rate will likely make him the more valuable option. Both players are strong WR3s.
Browns Implied Team Total: 23
Over the last two weeks, the Browns have a 2% pass rate over expected. For most teams, a slight lean to the pass wouldn't be anything out of the ordinary. But for the Browns, it's a sign that something has gone horribly wrong.
With a -6% PROE and a -10% PROE on 1st-and-10, the Browns are true believers in the run game. But their faith has been tested in recent weeks, particularly when Nick Chubb managed just 19 yards on 14 carries against the Bills.
The Browns now face a Buccaneers defense that is better at defending the pass than the run, ranking eighth in EPA allowed per dropback but just 21st in EPA allowed per rush. The Buccaneers have a respectable success rate against the run, ranking 13th, but the Browns can be counted on to test them on the ground.
Even after his disastrous performance against the Bills, Nick Chubb still ranks RB1 in elusive rating and looks like an elite rusher by pretty much whichever metric you prefer.
Because Chubb doesn't have a receiving workload to fall back on, any disappointing rushing performances will be absolutely disastrous for his fantasy value. But Chubb still has access to the same ceiling he did two weeks ago. Of course, as a two-down runner with a split workload, he's dependent on long runs and TDs to access upside. But he is one of the best bets in the league to rip off a long run on any given play.
In the receiving game, Week 11 was a reminder that this passing game still flows through Amari Cooper. Cooper racked up 13 targets, going off for an 8-113-2 receiving line. And Cooper's involvement was no accident. He saw a first-read target on 33% of his routes; the Browns were calling plays specifically to get him involved. This is nothing new. Cooper has an elite 24% first-read target rate this season.
The only wart on Cooper's receiving profile is that he doesn't see many targets over the middle of the field, ranking just 17th percentile in middle of the field targets traveling 10+ yards downfield. As Hayden Winks has shown, middle-of-the-field targets are highly valuable for fantasy when paired with sufficient air yards. Cooper's lack of these downfield/middle targets could partly explain his lower-than-ideal 8.7 YPT.
Even last Week 11's spike week was built on zero downfield/middle targets. Cooper's biggest plays came from making difficult catches along the sidelines, and the over-the-middle targets he did see were of the shallow variety. His target mix helps explain why Cooper is such a boom/bust option.
Cooper also faces a lot of defensive attention, with a relatively high 26% double coverage rate, and that's not helping him either. The opposition is forcing Cooper to deal with extra defenders, and the Browns are asking him to make difficult catches. He's a good enough receiver to deliver despite it all, but he's a volatile WR2... even at home.
David Njoku returned in Week 11 but only ran a route on 42% of dropbacks, with Harrison Bryant at 58%. Njoku's per-route volume has been pretty solid this season. But he's a high-risk option with his routes and health somewhat in question.
Texans at Dolphins, 1 PM Eastern, Sunday
Texans Implied Team Total: 16.5
The Texans have seen enough of Davis Mills, so we'll see Kyle Allen's first start against the Dolphins. As you may remember, Kyle Allen is not a good quarterback. However, there are levels to these things... and it seems likely that Allen will at least be better than Mills. Among quarterbacks with at least 600 plays since 2018, Davis Mills ranks 50th in EPA per play. Only Zach Wilson and Josh Rosen have been less efficient. Meanwhile, Kyle Allen hasn't been good, but he's in the Heinicke zone, where he could at least captain a functional offense.
And if Allen is competent, he should be able to move the ball against a Dolphins' secondary ranks 29th in PFF's coverage grades. The Dolphins' secondary is a genuine liability and helps explain why they rank just 29th in EPA allowed per dropback and 27th in dropback success rate.
Competent play from Allen could be a major boost for Dameon Pierce. Pierce ranks second to only Josh Jacobs in share of team attempts, and only Nick Chubb has a higher elusive rating. That combination of workload and tackle-shedding ability makes Pierce fantasy relevant despite being on a terrible team.
However, as Week 11 reminded us, Pierce needs at least a baseline level of offensive competence to put up points. At the very least, Allen should be able to move the chains more effectively than Mills did against the Commanders. Pierce is facing a stout Dolphins run defense, but the Texans are sure to lean on him throughout the game, regardless of his efficiency. Pierce profiles as a high-end RB2.
Given the quarterback change, it's tough to say who the Texans' top option in the passing game will be. But Nico Collins is most likely to emerge as the top target. Brandin Cooks has a slight advantage over Collins in route participation this season, but that has evaporated in recent weeks. Collins has run more routes than Cooks in the last two games. And on a per-route basis, Collins has been more efficient with nearly equal target volume.
Moreover, things seem to be headed in Collins' direction in terms of target opportunity. Over the last two weeks, Collins has seen a very strong 22% first-read target rate; Cooks is at just 17%. Cooks is far from being phased out of the offense, but Collins seems to have quietly usurped him as the No. 1 option in Houston.
Dolphins Implied Team Total: 30.5
The Dolphins have been a pass-first team this season and have had a positive PROE for five straight games. That could change this week against a Texans defense that has been a massive run funnel. Texans' opponents are averaging a -10% PROE. If "Texans-opponent" was a team, it would be the third most run-heavy offense in the league behind only the Falcons and Bears.
The Texans are also affecting opponents' game plans, creating a 6% shift to the run, tied with the Cowboys for the largest in the league. And it's not hard to understand why this is happening. The Texans rank 27th in EPA allowed per rush and 27th in rushing success rate.
But, as you can see, the Texans are also terrible against the pass. The Dolphins were in a similar situation in Week 10 against a Browns defense that has been a run funnel despite being poor against both the pass and run. The Dolphins opted to play to their own strengths rather than follow the crowd against the Browns. There's a good chance they'll do the same here, although my guess would be that they play things pretty balanced against this hapless defense.
Although passing volume is somewhat in question this week, the Dolphins' attack is so concentrated that it's hard to be overly worried about Tyreek Hill or Jaylen Waddle. Hill has been so wildly efficient that his 3.61 YPRR is literally off this chart.
And although he's obviously running hot in per-target efficiency, his expected YPRR of 3.02 is absolutely wild. So even with Waddle turning in an elite 2.74 YPRR, Hill is the clear No. 1 option in this offense. Fortunately, both players aren't just seeing a ton of target volume; they're also continuing to see league-high target volume over the middle of the field. Waddle leads the NFL in the rate at which he sees middle-of-the-field targets at least 10+ yards downfield; Hill ranks second.
Hill and Waddle's target dominance doesn't leave much room for anyone else in this passing game, and with overall volume uncertain, I would look elsewhere for dart throws this week.
But if the Dolphins do decide to go run-first, they shouldn't have any problem sustaining an efficient offense. Because Jeff Wilson looks to be a meaningful upgrade for the Dolphins' running game.
Wilson ranks RB6 in RYOE / attempt and RB9 in breakaway yards per game, providing a surprisingly explosive element for a player who got his first NFL reps as a goal line back. And Wilson has also been consistent, ranking RB15 in success rate. So he's the type of back the Dolphins can lean on if they prefer to play this matchup through the run game.
And with Raheem Mostert logging back-to-back DNPs this week, we could see quite a bit of Wilson even if the Dolphins go pass-first. In a cupcake matchup, Wilson profiles as a high-end RB2 even if Mostert goes... it's Wilson RB1 szn if Mostert can't suit up.
Bengals at Titans, 1 PM Eastern, Sunday
Bengals Implied Team Total: 23
The Bengals stuck to their guns without Ja'Marr Chase in the lineup, remaining a pass-heavy team. They did go run-first against the Panthers in Week 9 but were truly pass-heavy in their other two games.
And the Bengals are now facing a Titans defense that has been a pass funnel. But the Titans aren't getting thrown on because they're soft against the pass. Instead, teams are attacking them through the air because they are so strong against the run.
Concerningly, the Titans also have a strong pass rush. The Bengals have struggled to protect Burrow this season. And so this matchup creates downside for the Bengals to be one-dimensional and predictable, which will be a major problem if the Bengals' offensive line is struggling to protect Joe Burrow.
But Burrow can't be counted out. He ranks sixth in EPA per play and fourth in CPOE. The season started off rough for Burrow, and he's had overcome an injury to his No. 1 receiver, but he's having a quietly excellent season.
And Burrow will likely have Chase back in the lineup this week, which would be excellent news for the entire offense. Chase has been double-teamed on 30% of his routes this season, tied with Cooper Kupp and Justin Jefferson for the highest rate among wide receivers. So even if he's not fully healthy, Chase should draw defensive attention at a high rate.
Both Chase and Higgins can be trusted in lineups if Chase suits up. The two have very similar wide receiver profiles this season, but Higgins has actually seen more downfield/middle targets. If Chase can draw double coverage, it should compensate for some of the targets he'll siphon from Higgins, particularly if he helps open up the middle of the field.
However, this looks like a tough week to play Tyler Boyd and Hayden Hurst. This could be a rough day for the Bengals, making their ancillary weapons risky plays. That's all the more true because both players are seeing poor per-route opportunity.
Although this is a tough rushing matchup, you're obviously starting Joe Mixon if he goes. And if he doesn't play... Samaje Perine looks like a viable volume-based RB2. Perine ran a route on 55% of dropbacks against the Steelers and could be a frequent outlet for Burrow if the Titans' pass rush is getting home. If Chris Evans is activated from injured reserve before the game, it will add some risk to Perine's receiving profile. But Evans has yet to see higher than a 5% snap share this season... so he's unlikely to be a factor. Perine's receiving ability gives him upside to dominate the backfield this week, making him a solid play even in a bad matchup.
Titans Implied Team Total: 20.5
The Titans are coming off a dominant win over the Packers, who have a very poor run defense. With that in mind, it's a little shocking to consider that the Titans were pass-first against Green Bay. They had a 2% PROE and a 5% PROE on 1st-and-10, showing a surprising prioritization of the pass.
But the Titans are unlikely to have had a change of heart about their offense of philosophy. Only the Falcons and Bears have been more run-heavy this season, and Week 11 was the only time the Titans have posted a positive PROE.
The Titans are in a great spot to reestablish the run, facing a Bengals defense that ranks 24th in EPA allowed per rush. The Bengals are much stronger against the pass, ranking seventh in EPA allowed per dropback and fourth in dropback success rate.
Still, the Titans may be willing to be less run-centric now that Treylon Burks is back in the lineup. The rookie only has a 68% route rate and was at 66% against the Packers, so he's still just a part-time player. But Burks leads the Titans with an elite 2.08 YPRR, and he's drawing valuable downfield target volume. His per-route numbers compare favorably to Christian Watson and Garrett Wilson.
Burks isn't running enough routes to be fully trustworthy as a fantasy option. And as a result, he looks like a risky FLEX in this matchup. But when Burks eventually works into a full-time role, he will have a very valuable receiving profile—which makes it worth gambling that this will be that week.
Derrick Henry is another reason we could see a bit more passing from the Titans. Henry, shockingly, ranks RB1 in YPRR with an elite 2.03. He's also seen a solid 10% target share. The combination of his receiving usage, breakaway ability, and goal line workload makes Henry a very exciting fantasy running back. He could get rolling in a big way in this matchup.
Broncos at Panthers, 1 PM Eastern, Sunday
Broncos Implied Team Total: 19.5
Technically, Week 11 was a good week for Russell Wilson. He finished 11th in EPA per play and second in CPOE, showing strong accuracy and improved efficiency.
But... come on. The dude was at home against a horrible Raiders defense and managed to throw for just 247 scoreless yards. Somehow this TikTok bit is becoming a legitimate sweat.
But, as I note just about every week, this is only partially on Wilson. In a matchup that demands a pass-first game plan, Nathaniel Hackett... rolled out a run-first one. The Broncos had a -3% PROE and gave Melvin Gordon 13 touches, which seems a bit much in retrospect, considering that they cut him after the game.
The Broncos now get a Panthers defense that isn't particularly good but doesn't have a glaring weakness in the same way that the Raiders do.
In a run-of-the-mill matchup, there's no reason to expect Wilson to be anything but inefficient and yet, somehow, underutilized. His weapons will likely be dealing with low target volume and are unlikely to deliver a lot of big plays. With Jerry Jeudy presumably out of the lineup, target volume should at least be concentrated to Courtland Sutton and Greg Dulcich.
With Jeudy out last week, Sutton ran a route on 97% of dropbacks, with Dulcich at 86%. Kendall Hinton (86%) was the only other player with a route rate of 40%+. But Hinton had just a 10% target rate and isn't likely to be a major factor.
Sutton is an uninspiring but viable FLEX, as a bet that his poor YPT regresses positively. And Dulcich won't be the worst tight end you see in lineups this week, but you may have a better option.
In the backfield, it's possible that Latavius Murray will now have a workhorse role. But I wouldn't bank on it. In 10 games this season, the Broncos have given a running back a 60%+ snap share just once. Javonte Williams had a 65% snap share in Week 2, but the following week (the week before he tore his ACL), Williams had just a 45% snap share. If Hackett couldn't commit to Williams, I have trouble believing he will commit to a running back plucked off the Saints' practice squad. Murray is a viable RB2 play, but just because a play is viable doesn't mean it's not gross.
Panthers Implied Team Total: 17
Intellectually, I know that the Panthers aren't intentionally experimenting on the public to see how low D.J. Moore's fantasy football managers are willing to sink. But when I saw that Sam Darnold had been named the Panthers starting quarterback again... and when that brought me joy... it's hard not to wonder what's really going on.
And look, despite my endless hope for Moore, the numbers are bleak. Things will be exactly the same with Darnold under center as they were with Baker Mayfield and P.J. Walker. Yes, Darnold was slightly more efficient last season than both quarterbacks have been this year. But his play essentially matched 2022 Davis Mills.
The Mills-ian Darnold is now facing a Broncos defense that ranks fourth in EPA allowed per dropback and second in dropback success rate. It's a rough matchup for him to return to.
For fantasy purposes, Darnold's only job will be facilitating a usable week from D.J. Moore. But that could be pretty difficult against this defense. Still, Moore's profile is shockingly good, given how poor his production has generally been this season.
Moore is drawing targets effectively, and he's also drawing high value targets. Moore ranks 88th percentile in downfield/middle targets and has an elite 43% air yard share. If Darnold can help him improve his awful 6.6 YPT, he could succeed despite the matchup. I'd be willing to chance him in the FLEX.
But Moore looks like the only viable starter on the Panthers this week. After a run of shockingly impressive production, D'Onta Foreman saw his snap share drop to 39% against the Raiders. Foreman will likely see more playing time this week, assuming this game will be fairly close. But he's a TD-dependent RB2 on a team that will likely struggle badly to put up points.
Bears at Jets, 1 PM Eastern, Sunday
Bears Implied Team Total: 16.25
With Justin Fields dealing with a shoulder injury, we're likely to see Trevor Siemian at quarterback for the Bears this week. Since 2021, Siemian actually ranks higher than Fields in EPA per play. However, he's been even less accurate than Fields and brings approximately zero of the rushing upside that Fields does.
And Fields has been much better this season than last year, ranking 18th in EPA per play. The switch to Siemian will force the Bears' passing offense to operate as a traditional dropback attack... which is likely to fail. But that failure will probably occur on limited volume, at least. The Bears have been an extremely run-heavy team this season; they could take things to another level with a backup quarterback at the helm.
I'm usually an advocate for passing the ball, but the Bears would have to be kind of nuts here to willingly expose Siemian to a Jets defense that ranks second in PFF's coverage grades and fourth in pass rush grade. While the Jets aren't terrible against the run, they rank just 19th in rushing success rate.
The Bears are certain to test their run defense as much as the game script allows. Given that they will be facing Mike White on the other side of this game, the game script could allow for quite a lot of rushing attempts.
This sets up David Montgomery for another volume-based outing. Montgomery played 80% of snaps against the Falcons while handling 20 touches, tied for his season-high. And for the first time all season, Montgomery recorded 20+ PRR points. This matchup is much more difficult, and the Bears are much less likely to effectively move the chains. As a result, Montgomery is very unlikely to produce efficiently on the ground. Even against a highly vulnerable Falcons run defense, he managed just 3.9 yards per carry. The dude is not an effective rusher.
However, Montgomery ran a route on 75% of dropbacks last week and could rack up check-down throws from the immobile Siemian. I jumped on board the Montgomery bandwagon last week, but one week is enough for me. Still, the hype train could keep rolling if Montgomery is a feature of the passing game.
The Bears' passing game otherwise looks like a major stay away. Per-route volume has been a significant issue for every Bears receiver outside of Darnell Mooney. And Mooney could soon face a target squeeze from Chase Claypool, who was up to a 53% route rate in Week 11. Claypool has seen a 25% target rate since joining the Bears, well above Mooney's 19%. The threat of more routes from Claypool is enough to keep me from starting anyone except Montgomery in this Trevor Siemian offense.
Jets Implied Team Total: 22.25
Zach Wilson has played like hot garbage for two seasons and just got benched for... his personality. Hard to imagine a tougher scene. Wilson wasn't quite as bad this year as he was as a rookie, but he still ranked just 35th in EPA per play; only Davis Mills, P.J. Walker, and Baker Mayfield have been worse.
We have a small sample on White at quarterback, but what he showed last year was far better than what Wilson has displayed in his career. To be clear, White wasn't good, and his passing volume is a lock to be limited this week. But he could facilitate a moderately efficient passing offense akin to what Andy Dalton is doing for the Saints.
In a normal matchup, even Dalton-esque efficiency might be a bit too much to ask from White. But he has the advantage this week of playing a Bears defense that ranks 31st in EPA allowed per dropback and 23rd in EPA allowed per rush. The Jets should be able to move the ball efficiently on the ground, setting up White as a counterpunch.
He should be capable of delivering in that role because, like Dalton, he has an elite rookie wide receiver to throw to.
Garrett Wilson hasn't been nearly as effective at drawing targets as Chris Olave. And he hasn't been used as a deep threat, with a shallow 8.5 aDOT. This has made his per-route opportunity far less valuable than his former teammate's.
But Wilson ran a route on 100% of dropbacks against the Patriots, so he could be on the field for literally every route. And although he's running shallower routes than Olave, he's getting open even more often, ranking WR7 in ESPN's open score, with Olave at WR10. Wilson's ability to get open quickly should be a great fit for Mike White, who had a very shallow 6.4 aDOT last season.
Elijah Moore remains off the fantasy radar, however. He ran a route on just 55% of dropbacks in Week 11—so he remains a part-time player for the time being.
Tyler Conklin is still mildly interesting as a punt play option. He had a 76% route rate against the Patriots and is at 74% this season. With a 1.45 expected YPRR, you could do worse.
In the backfield, Michael Carter has to be borderline ecstatic to see the return of the quarterback who targeted him 14 times against the Bengals last season. Carter hasn't been very impressive as a rusher, but he still looks like a solid receiving back, ranking RB14 in YPRR. Having logged just a 46% snap share against the Patriots, Carter is a low-end RB2 option. But he has enough receiving upside to be in lineups.
Falcons at Commanders, 1 PM Eastern, Sunday
Falcons Implied Team Total: 18.25
London has a terrible 6.4 YPT, over two yards lower than expected for his 10.4 aDOT. Given that Kyle Pitts had the exact same YPT at an even deeper 13.7 aDOT... it feels safe to blame Marcus Mariota for a lot of London's per-target inefficiency. But Mariota isn't going anywhere, so London needs all the targets he can get.
London already has a very strong 24% target rate and a 27% target share, so he doesn't necessarily need a bigger slice of the Falcons' offense. Instead, he needs the Falcons' offense to pass more often.
With a -12% PROE, the Falcons are the second most run-heavy in the league. Only the Bears have been more committed to pounding the rock. And the Falcons continue to lap the field with a -18% PROE on 1st-and-10. They are prioritizing the run in a major way.
And honestly, perhaps I'm being a little unfair in blaming Mariota for London's inefficiency. That could be Arthur Smith's fault, to some extent, anyway.
Think about it—we know that first down passing sets quarterbacks up for success. By the same token, passing on first down is also beneficial for receivers. The league average for YPT on first down is 7.9, but just 7.3 on second down and 7.6 on third down. Arthur Smith's approach isn't just costing the team passing attempts; it's costing the Falcons efficiency.
In some ways, that makes Marcus Mariota's play slightly more impressive this season. Despite a suboptimal offensive design, Mariota ranks a solid 17th in EPA per play and 18th in CPOE. However, this is a bit of a chicken or egg situation. If Smith had more faith in his quarterback, he would presumably be less interested in setting his running game up for success at the expense of his passing game. And while Mariota hasn't been bad, he also hasn't been impressive.
And Mariota is about to face a Commanders team that has emerged as a legitimately solid pass defense. They rank ninth in EPA allowed per dropback and fourth in dropback success rate.
London should see some additional targets with Pitts out of the lineup, but it could be a tough day for this passing game. I'm not exactly going out on a limb in predicting the Falcons to struggle through the air. Still, they could be especially worthless this week... because they could also have trouble getting their run game going against a Commanders' defense that is one of the best in the NFL against the rush.
The Falcons have shown no signs of a secondary identity this season. Running the ball is their first, second, and third plan. Against the Commanders, they are likely to be the exact same team we've seen all season—just a worse version of it.
Then again, the Falcons may overcome this difficult matchup. With an offensive line that ranks first in PFF's run block grades, they could succeed in establishing the run. We know for sure they're going to try.
As frustrating as the Falcons' passing game has been, their backfield suddenly looks much more predictable. Against the Bears, Tyler Allgeier led the way with a 55% snap share, with Cordarrelle Patterson at 49%. Gloriously, the backfield was only split two ways, with Caleb Huntley seeing just a 4% snap share.
Allgeier has run well this season, ranking RB14 in RYOE / attempt and RB10 in success rate. But he's an afterthought in the passing game. Huntley's role reduction makes Allgeier a more comfortable play, but he's still a TD-dependent RB2 option.
Patterson has run pretty well this season as well, but he's also—more surprisingly—an afterthought in the receiving game. Perhaps that will change with Pitts out of the lineup, but frankly, I'll believe it when I see it. Patterson profiles very similarly to Allgeier, as a bet on a TD... on a team with an implied total below 20.
Commanders Implied Team Total: 22.25
In the five weeks since Taylor Heinicke took over, the Commanders have a clear identity. They have a run-heavy -8% PROE, but they're less aggressive about running the ball on first down, with a -4% PROE on 1st-and-10.
The Commanders definitely do not want their offense to run through Heinicke, but they are at least willing to let him throw it enough to keep defenses honest.
And fortunately, they won't need to do much to keep this Falcons' defense on its heels. Atlanta has been a truly horrible pass defense this season, ranking 28th in EPA allowed per dropback and 30th in dropback success rate. And they don't really do anything well on defense, struggling in coverage and ranking even worse at getting to the passer.
Heinicke hasn't inspired much confidence this season, either. He ranks just 23rd in EPA per play and 16th in CPOE. But Heinicke should be able to support at least one receiver, given how easy this matchup is.
If Heinicke can support anyone, Terry McLaurin is a strong favorite to be the receiver in question. McLaurin leads the Commanders with a 1.96 YPRR, which is a very impressive mark given his level of quarterback play this season. McLaurin is also seeing valuable opportunities, ranking 65th percentile in downfield/middle targets. This helps distinguish his profile from Curtis Samuel, who is seeing a similar target rate (19% vs. 18%), and just as many first-read targets per route (15%). But Samuel has a much more shallow 6.2 aDOT, which limits the number of valuable downfield targets he receives.
In the backfield, the Commanders keep faking me out. Every time I think they've moved on from Brian Robinson, they go back to him; every time I resign myself to the Brian Robinson experience, they feed Antonio Gibson. Last week, with the full expectation that they would establish Robinson against the Texans, Washington gave Gibson 68% of the snaps instead. But even with just a 34% snap share, Robinson still saw 15 carries, just three fewer than Gibson. We'll likely see plenty of both backs this week against a Falcons defense that ranks just 26th in EPA allowed per rush. Gibson may not lead the backfield in carries again, but he shouldn't be far off Robinson, even if the rookie leads the way. And Gibson has a big lead in the receiving game, which could make more of a difference this week than most. Gibson's 1.72 YPRR is an elite mark for a running back, ranking RB5. He looks like a solid RB2.
Chargers at Cardinals, 4:05 Eastern, Sunday
Chargers Implied Team Total: 25.5
Justin Herbert finally had some healthy wide receivers on the field last week, and his play improved dramatically. Even with Mike Williams reinjuring his ankle early in the game, Herbert looks much more like the quarterback we expected him to be before the season. Herbert ranked seventh in EPA per play and fifth in CPOE in Week 11. It wasn't a dominant performance, but it definitely provided some hope for a quarterback who has been less efficient than Andy Dalton, Marcus Mariota, and Jared Goff this season.
Even with Herbert struggling, the Chargers have been a pass-first team. Brandon Staley has been bullied out of going for it on fourth down, but he's still willing to pass the ball... for now.
And the Chargers now get a Cardinals defense that even Kyle Shanahan was willing to pass more than expected against. The Cardinals have been vulnerable through the air all season, ranking 32nd in dropback success rate. However, the Cardinals' pass rush is decent at getting to the quarterback quickly, which is a major weakness for the Chargers.
If the Chargers need to emphasize getting the ball out quickly, it could be another big week for Austin Ekeler. Ekeler ranks second to only Christian McCaffrey, with a 21% target share, and he leads all running backs with 20.6 expected points per game. There's no reason to doubt him as an elite play in this matchup.
But Keenan Allen should also be a major part of the Chargers' game plan. Allen ran a route on 74% of dropbacks against the Chiefs, which is a very positive sign for his health going forward. Allen has been limited to just 55 routes this season, which is fewer than we've seen from Sony Michel... so it's hard to take too much from the small sample Allen has provided in 2022. But despite being injured, Allen's usage has been very encouraging. When on the field, Allen has been as heavily targeted as his fantasy managers were betting he would be when they drafted him.
As you can see above, despite Josh Palmer's spike week against the Chiefs, his per-route volume has not been impressive the season. He has a 1.40 YPRR, which is directly in line with his target volume. Although, Palmer should have additional target opportunity with Mike Williams unlikely to play. Still, he remains a boom/bust FLEX option.
Cardinals Implied Team Total: 22.5
Kyler Murray looks set to return for this game after missing the last two weeks with a hamstring injury. Murray is a much stronger fantasy quarterback than Colt McCoy, but his return might not have a huge effect on the offense... unless he plays better than he has so far this season.
Murray has been less efficient than McCoy and far less accurate. Of course, we only have a small sample for McCoy this season... I'm not suggesting a quarterback controversy. Instead, this serves to underline how disappointing Murray's season has been. He ranks just 26th in EPA per play, four spots lower than Russell Wilson.
Fortunately, we're not feeling Murray's inefficiency in fantasy as much as Wilson's—because the Cardinals have a solid running game that has helped move the chains. But it would be really nice if Murray could step up his game.
This week, he has a good opportunity to do that against a Chargers defense that ranks 21st in EPA allowed per dropback. The Chargers also have a weak pass rush that ranks just 27th in quick pressure rate. That could be a huge boost for the Cardinals, who have struggled with allowing quick pressure this season.
But although Murray could be more efficient than usual through the air, the Cardinals may still limit his passing volume. Arizona has been a run-first team this season with a -1% PROE and -5% PROE on 1st-and-10. It's hard to believe they won't be tempted by a Chargers run defense that ranks 31st in EPA allowed per rush.
Although, even in a great matchup, James Conner could struggle with efficiency. He ranks just RB41 in RYOE / attempt and RB34 in success rate. But Conner will undoubtedly get plenty of opportunities. After seeing a 96% snap share in Week 10, Conner had 77% of snaps against the 49ers. Despite poor rushing efficiency, he profiles as a low-end RB1.
When Murray drops back, he'll be without both of his top options out of the slot; both Rondale Moore and Greg Dortch have yet to practice this week. That could mean more work in the slot for DeAndre Hopkins, who has played 26% of his snaps there this season. And we could also see some of Marquise Brown in the slot if he's active for this game. Brown has played 24% of his snaps in the slot, and his versatility would be a boost if Moore and Dortch can't go.
And Brown should be considered a positive for the offense overall, given his ability to stretch the defense. Although Brown has just an 11.3 aDOT this season, he should see a deeper mix of targets than he did earlier in the year when he was helping to fill the role that Hopkins is now in. Robbie Anderson and A.J. Green have failed to make an impact downfield; Brown's superior downfield ability could help open up this passing attack.
But there's little reason to worry about Hopkins. With a 32% target share and a 45% air yard share, Hopkins leads the NFL with a 0.80 WOPR. He's also just behind Tyreek Hill for the NFL lead in first-read target rate. The last time we saw Brown, he had the chance to carve out a huge slice of the Cardinals' offense. But Hopkins' target dominance has been far more impressive. Brown is hard to trust this week, given what could be a limited slate of routes. But I'm not doubting Hopkins' elite credentials, even with Brown back in the lineup.
Raiders at Seahawks, 4:05 Eastern, Sunday
Raiders Implied Team Total: 22.25
Derek Carr is coming off a strong outing against the Broncos. Although he finished just 11th in EPA per play, he did so against an imposing Broncos pass defense. However, Week 11 continued a dynamic for Carr that has existed all season. He has been much more efficient than you'd expect based on his accuracy. Carr was just 24th in CPOE last week. For the season, Carr ranks 29th in CPOE, which puts his 12th-ranked EPA per play into some question. Fantasy managers will be hoping for better play from Carr moving forward, but he could regress negatively instead.
This week Carr gets a Seahawks defense that ranks 24th in EPA allowed per dropback. This should play to the Raiders' strengths. Carr ranks 12th in EPA per dropback but just 30th success rate. The Seahawks have a strong success rate on defense but have been susceptible to lapses.
Whether or not Carr can take advantage of this defense will ultimately boil down to how well Davante Adams plays. Adams has truly been the engine of the Raiders' passing attack. With a first-read target on 25% of his routes, he trails only DeAndre Hopkins (26%) and Tyreek Hill (26%). And with a 31% target share and a 42% air yard share, Adams' 0.76 WOPR trails only Hopkins (0.80). He literally won the Broncos game by getting wide open in overtime, and he is more than capable of winning fantasy matchups this week.
Beyond Adams, there isn't much here. Mack Hollins ran a route on 100% of dropbacks against the Broncos, and his per-route volume is enough to make him a viable desperation FLEX in deep leagues. But even Foster Moreau doesn't look like a great punt tight end anymore. He ran a route on just 61% of dropbacks last week and has an expected YPRR of just 1.10. As a part-time tight end with weak per-route opportunity, he's thin, regardless of the format.
Apparently, leaning on one player to drive an entire segment of the offense is Josh McDaniels' thing. Because Josh Jacobs continues to be an absolute workhorse this season, seeing an NFL-leading 86% of team rushing attempts and 100% of the Raiders' rushing attempts inside the 10-yard line this season. The Seahawks have a middling run defense, and Jacobs ultimately may not be particularly efficient against them. But his rushing efficiency hasn't actually been that impressive this season. Instead, his fantasy value has derived from off-the-charts opportunity. And there's no reason to doubt his workload this week.
Seahawks Implied Team Total: 25.75
Geno Smith has been much, much better than expected this season. And since he was on bye last week, let's do a quick recap of how good he's been. Smith ranks eighth in EPA per play, behind only Tua Tagovailoa, Patrick Mahomes, Josh Allen, Jimmy Garoppolo, Jalen Hurts, Joe Burrow, and Dak Prescott. And per CPOE, no quarterback has been more accurate this season than Smith.
And Smith now gets a Raiders defense that is remarkably bad at defending the pass. They rank 32nd in EPA allowed per dropback and 31st in success rate. The Raiders' one semi-strength is getting to the passer. But Smith's ability to get the ball out quickly has prevented quick pressure this year.
As good as Smith has been, he's only had two 300+ yard passing days this season; this matchup creates strong potential for a third.
And the Seahawks are not afraid to pass the ball this year, like... at all. Before going on bye, the Seahawks posted a Chiefs-esque 14% PROE and a Bills-esque 23% PROE on 1st-and-10. This was very pass-heavy by their historical standards but not entirely out of character for the Seahawks this season. Seattle ranks sixth with a 3% PROE and only the Bills, Chiefs, and Bengals are prioritizing the pass more on first down.
In past years, betting on the Seahawks to properly attack this matchup would have felt extremely precarious. But Seattle seems unlikely to ignore such a juicy passing matchup after aggressively passing the ball against the Buccaneers. Granted, the Seahawks did not have their best outing in Germany, but Smith has played well enough that we can expect them to have a lean to the pass here.
If the Seahawks' offense has additional passing volume this week, both DK Metcalf and Tyler Lockett are well positioned for big days. With Seattle's target volume heavily concentrated, both receivers have excellent profiles. Although Metcalf's disappointing 7.5 YPT is hiding that his underlying opportunity is significantly stronger than Lockett's. Both receivers have excellent profiles, but if one of them explodes for a week-winning performance, my money would be on Metcalf.
I would avoid having money on any other Seahawks receivers, however. Noah Fant's per-route receiving profile isn't bad, but with 55% route participation this season and just 50% against the Buccaneers, he's a pure TD dart throw.
Part of the reason that the Seahawks struggled in Germany is that Ken Walker was completely unable to get going on the ground. Walker ranked dead last in RYOE / attempt in Week 10. Per NFL Next Gen, he was expected to gain 50 yards against the Buccaneers; he delivered just 17. And, incredibly, Walker had a 0% success rate—meaning he produced fewer yards than expected on all 10 of his carries.
But this is part of the Ken Walker experience. Walker ranks RB46 in success rate this season, ahead of only Najee Harris, Darrell Henderson, and Clyde Edwards-Helaire. But unlike those backs, Walker has been highly explosive, ranking RB11 in RYOE / attempt and RB4 in breakaway yards per game. Given his boom/bust running style, he has more duds in his future. But we're also talking about a breakaway back who just posted an 87% snap share and hasn't been below 70% since Week 6. He is a true high-variance option with both a low floor and a high ceiling.
Rams at Chiefs, 4:25 Eastern, Sunday
Rams Implied Team Total: 13.5
Regardless of who starts, the Rams offense is likely to be highly inefficient through the air—despite facing a middling Chiefs pass defense.
And without their starting quarterback, the Rams can be counted on to go very run-heavy. Over the last two weeks, they have a -12% PROE, in line with the Falcons' season-long rate.
With the Rams looking to establish it against a mediocre Chiefs run defense, Cam Akers should see a decent workload. But he's unlikely to lead the team in snaps after seeing a 39% snap share to Kyren Williams' 55% last week. If you're looking to play a Rams running back, Akers would be the guy... but maybe don't.
The Rams receiving game without Kupp was about as brutal as expected, but the silver lining was that Tyler Higbee was running more routes. He ran a route on an elite 89% of dropbacks against the Saints and was targeted on a team-high 25% of his routes. Higbee looks to be the No. 1 option in this passing game, and considering how bad tight end is... that's not nothing.
Chiefs Implied Team Total: 29
Against the Chargers, the Chiefs were surprisingly run-heavy... by their standards, anyway. The Chiefs still had a 1% PROE, but it was the first time they dropped below 11% all season—which is an ultra-pass-heavy mark. And the Chiefs were legitimately run heavy on 1st-and-10 last week, with a -8% PROE.
But the Chiefs shifted to the run against the Chargers because they were having success against a poor run defense. The Chiefs finished with the fifth-highest EPA per rush of Week 11. They will likely have a much harder time moving the ball on the ground against the Rams.
But while the Rams are very strong against the run, they rank just 23rd in EPA allowed per dropback. As a result, the Chiefs are very likely to shift back to an ultra-past-heavy game plan this week. Of course, that's relative to game script—as 15.5-point favorites, "pass-heavy" may not require all that much passing.
Patrick Mahomes should have very little trouble putting up points against this secondary. He ranks second in EPA per play and sixth in CPOE. And Mahomes leads the NFL in EPA per game.
Mahomes should also have JuJu Smith-Schuster back in the lineup, who is practicing in full as he recovers from a concussion. Smith-Schuster leads the Chiefs wide receivers with a strong 1.92 YPRR. However, his underlying volume doesn't stand out from the pack.
Smith-Schuster is the most reliable way to play the Chiefs' wide receiver corps, but he doesn't look like more than a FLEX option based on his target profile.
With Kadarius Toney unlikely to play in this game, additional routes will remain available in the offense. Based on the last two weeks, we'll likely see a 3WR set of Smith-Schuster, Marquez Valdes-Scantling, and Justin Watson. Watson had 97% route participation against the Chargers and looks to be a designated field stretcher, with a 17.1 aDOT. He's unlikely to see many targets but could help open things up underneath. His role looks somewhat similar to Jalen Guyton's with the Chargers last season. With just a 12% target rate... the same can be said of Valdes-Scantling.
While Watson and Valdes-Scantling could struggle to draw targets, they should help open things up for Travis Kelce.
Kelce has an elite 2.30 YPRR, and although he's running a bit hot with a 9.2 YPT, there's no doubt that the Chiefs' offense is designed to run through him. Kelce leads the team with a 19% first-read target rate, along with a 25% target share and a 25% air yard share. He's an elite play every single week.
With Clyde Edwards-Helaire on injured reserve, Isiah Pacheco can be counted on to handle the early down workload. But even in a more run-centric offense last week, Pacheco saw just a 40% snap share. CEH was a total afterthought, seeing just 8% of snaps, so his absence doesn't open up many opportunities for the rookie. The issue for Pacheco is that Jerick McKinnon has a dominant lead as the Chiefs receiving back; he saw a 52% snap share against the Chargers. So McKinnon will likely lead the way again this week. And facing a defense that ranks second in EPA allowed per rush, Pacheco looks like a TD-dependent RB2 gamble.
Saints at 49ers, 4:25 Eastern, Sunday
Saints Implied Team Total: 16.75
Andy Dalton is coming off one of his best games of the season. Against the Rams, Dalton finished fifth in EPA per play and third in CPOE. And to the Saints' credit, they were willing to play to the matchup. Against a strong Rams run defense, the typically run-heavy Saints pivoted and posted a pass-heavy 7% PROE.
But the Saints won't have the chance to pivot away from the 49ers' strength on defense... because this defense is strong across the board. The 49ers rank sixth in EPA allowed per rush, and fifth in EPA allowed per dropback. It's the type of matchup that could lead to the Saints playing even more of Taysom Hill and to Jameis Winston's back feeling a bit better after the week.
But the Saints shouldn't be counted out completely. They do, after all, have a couple high-end playmakers. Let's start with Chris Olave, who is having a ridiculously good rookie season. But forget the rookie part... Olave's receiving profile is spectacular, regardless of how many years he's been in the league.
In fact, the only hole you can really poke in his profile at the moment is that Olave doesn't have as strong a YPT as you'd expect for his 15.6 aDOT. That inefficiency will likely continue in a matchup that could stifle Dalton. However, Olave's ability to draw targets is not in question. And, so far, that ability has not been hampered by double coverage. Olave has a ridiculous 33% target rate against double teams... the rookie is going to get his share of target opportunity. If the 49ers play as aggressively as they did last week, target volume could more than make up for the tough matchup.
Outside of Olave, this looks like a tough spot for Saints receivers. Juwan Johnson has a knack for getting in the end zone, but the tight end has mediocre per-route opportunity and route participation. He's not an ideal start this week.
Jarvis Landry has stronger per-route volume but looks much less exciting than Olave due to a shallower aDOT that doesn't give him access to as much big play upside.
But Alvin Kamara still looks like a very strong option. His 1.86 YPRR ranks RB4, and he ranks RB3 in target share and route participation. Kamara isn't set up for a ton of success as a rusher... but that didn't matter all that much last week because Kamara was able to add 4-for-47 receiving on top of 42 scoreless rushing yards. He's not set up for one of his strongest outings, but Kamara can't be counted out for a big day.
49ers Implied Team Total: 26.25
Last week I wrote, "as long as the Cardinals' offense can make this a bit of a fight, the 49ers should be less inclined to go ultra-run-heavy. But they should find success with a balanced attack."
Credit to Kyle Shanahan, who found success with a balanced attack against a weak Cardinals secondary... despite the Cardinals not making it a fight.
The 49ers posted a 1% PROE and a -1% PROE on 1st-and-10, their version of airing it out. We'll likely see them be a bit more run-centric this week, given that the Saints defense isn't as weak against the pass as the Cardinals'. Still, the Saints are more vulnerable through the air than on the ground, so the 49ers could be willing to roll out more of a run-first than run-heavy game plan.
As it was last week, efficiency is crucial for this offense because of how crowded it is. But Jimmy Garoppolo continues to deliver efficiently. He's now up to third in EPA per play, behind only Tua Tagovailoa, Patrick Mahomes, and Josh Allen.
Garoppolo ranks just 26th in CPOE, so his efficiency could come crashing back down to earth at some point. But the timeline for when that might happen is obviously extremely important. Garoppolo also ran quite hot in efficiency last season, ranking eighth in EPA per play and 18th in CPOE. From where I'm sitting... Garoppolo clearly looks like a product of his environment. But that environment also looks exceptionally stable at the moment.
Similarly, Matthew Stafford ran very hot last season, ranking second in EPA per play and 16th in CPOE. He's only been slightly less accurate this season, but his efficiency has cratered to 28th. Were Garoppolo to see his weapons diminish and his offensive line crumble, he would almost certainly be exposed as a quarterback who is... not the fourth-best in the league. But because I don't see that happening this week, we can count on Garoppolo to facilitate efficiency to a slew of elite weapons.
Unfortunately, it's extremely difficult to parse which weapons Garoppolo will favor because target volume is extremely spread out. And not only that, first-read targets are spread out as well.
Brandon Aiyuk leads the way with a fairly modest 16% first-read target rate. Deebo Samuel and George Kittle aren't far behind at 13%. In fact, purely as a receiver, Aiyuk's profile is the most appealing. He is seeing deeper targets and more targets downfield and over the middle. Of course, Kittle's tight end eligibility and Samuel's rushing ability can't be overlooked.
Week 11 was also a nice reminder that George Kittle's upside isn't just theoretical. And it was a reminder that for all the consternation about Kittle's blocking... he still runs a ton of routes. He can run block to his heart's content as long as he's running routes on passing plays. And in fact, no tight end has higher route participation this season than Kittle's 88%. His expected 1.40 YPRR is setting him up for much weaker weekly volume than we're used to, but he's still a high-ceiling option at an extremely uninspiring position.
The 49ers' backfield is loaded with talent as well. After his first full week of practice with the 49ers, Christian McCaffrey played 81% of snaps against the Rams in Week 8. But with Elijah Mitchell back in the lineup over the last two weeks, McCaffrey has seen 65% and 66% snap shares. That usage still makes him a clear lead running back, but he is not the workhorse we thought he might be in San Francisco.
Notably, McCaffrey was a true workhorse in his fantasy heyday. His ceiling is likely to be more touchdown-dependent going forward. However, we're still talking about a running back who just scored 17.6 PPR points without getting in the end zone—he still has a massive ceiling; he just might not hit it every week. And McCaffrey's receiving usage has lived up to expectations with the 49ers. Over the last two weeks, he has seen 21% and 25% target shares. McCaffrey leads the NFL in target share this season and remains a premier receiving back, ranking RB3 in YPRR.
We have a small sample on Elijah Mitchell this season, but he's run well, ranking second in PFF's run grades behind only Josh Jacobs. He provides an explosive element on early downs, making him an ideal change of pace from McCaffrey. From a fantasy perspective, Mitchell primarily serves to weaken McCaffrey's profile. But as frustrating as his usage might be, it's sensible for the 49ers to mix him in.
Packers at Eagles, 8:20 Eastern, Sunday
Packers Implied Team Total: 20
The Packers snapped a five-game losing streak against the Cowboys but then lost badly to the Titans and seemed to be running out the clock... on themselves.
The Packers' insistence on operating at a slow pace is the approach you'd expect from a bad team hoping to increase variance. But, considering that half of their wins have come in overtime this season... perhaps that is who the Packers are.
With that in mind, we can count on the Packers to deliberately attack an Eagles run defense that ranks 29th in EPA allowed per rush and dead last in rushing success rate.
A run-heavy attack from the Packers will involve plenty of both Aaron Jones and A.J. Dillon, but Jones is far more likely to produce a big day. Jones has shown no signs of falling off this season, ranking seventh in elusive rating and second in NFL Next Gen's success rate. Regardless of the efficiency metric, Jones ranks well.
Jones' receiving ability also insulates him from game script going against him. Dillon will likely eat into his workload enough to hurt, but Jones still profiles as a high-end RB2.
But if the Packers are forced to the air, it could be a difficult day for the offense. The Eagles rank second in EPA allowed per dropback and third in dropbacks success rate. They should be able to hold up fairly well against Rodgers, who ranks just 21st in EPA per play and 19th in CPOE. Rodgers revealed this week that he has played through a broken thumb since Week 5. Now that he's nearly fully recovered from injury, we're allowed to know about it.
Based on his play, it seems probable that the thumb injury was affecting him. He reportedly suffered it in the final play of Week 5. He then had his worst game of the season in Week 6 and three of his worst five games from Week 7-9.
Rodgers' play now seems to be on the rise. Although Christian Watson could be more responsible for that than Rodgers' improving thumb.
Watson has been involved throughout the season, but the rookie was dealing with injuries early in the year. As a result, Allen Lazard's 22% target share is twice as high as Watson's 11%. Lazard also has a 35% air yard share to Watson's 17%. But the per-route numbers will tell a more accurate story here. And when looking at those, Watson looks to be the Packers' No. 1 receiver.
In terms of the per route numbers, Lazard's only advantage is a 17% first-read target rate to Watson's 14%. But that advantage may be a thing of the past. Over the last two weeks, Watson has seen a first-read target on an elite 25% of his routes. The Packers weren't calling plays with Watson in mind earlier in the season... but they certainly are now. Meanwhile, Lazard has a first-read target on 16% of his routes over the last two weeks. That's in line with his season average; he's holding steady as Watson is ascending. Watson is the exciting way to play this offense... and looks just as locked into target volume as Lazard, if not more so.
The only note of caution on Watson is that Lazard is still likely to run more routes than the rookie. Lazard has a 98% route rate over the last two weeks, with Watson at only 83%. But Watson's per-route advantage is strong enough that he should still be viewed as the top option. Neither receiver is in a good matchup, so I strongly prefer Watson this week as the bet on talent play.
Eagles Implied Team Total: 26.5
The Eagles have struggled over the last two weeks, losing their first game of the season to the Commanders and barely eking out a win over the Colts. They could get back to basics here.
The Packers have a solid pass defense but are extremely vulnerable against the run, ranking 28th in EPA allowed per rush and 29th in rushing success rate.
Although Philadelphia has been a balanced team this season, they have shown a willingness to go run-heavy, including over their last two weeks.
But in their last two games, the Eagles were facing a Commanders run defense that ranks third in EPA allowed per rush and a Colts defense that ranks fourth. So they can roll out a similar game plan this week and have far more success against this much weaker run defense.
That sets Miles Sanders up for a potential spike week. Sanders has not been involved as a receiver, ranking just RB38 with a 6% target share. He's also been highly inefficient as a receiver, ranking RB45 with an awful 0.25 YPRR.
But Sanders has been decently effective as a rusher. And although he's been more of a consistent option than an explosive one this year, he's traditionally been a breakaway runner. This weak run defense gives him upside for some long runs on what could be a larger workload than usual. And while Sanders won't be a true workhorse, his 61% snap share still puts him in true lead-back territory. He's a very intriguing RB2 play.
In the passing game, Jack Stoll took on the vast majority of Dallas Goedert's routes, logging 73% route participation. But, as expected, Stoll was far less involved as a receiver. He was targeted just once for a very poor 5% target rate. Instead, targets condensed to DeVonta Smith and A.J. Brown, who saw target shares of 39% and 30%, respectively. This is potentially a very big development for Smith, whose receiving profile has been significantly less valuable than Brown's this season.
With Goedert out of the lineup, Smith could close the gap. I still expect Brown to be the No. 1 in this offense, but Smith could emerge as the Tyler Lockett to Brown's DK Metcalf going forward. Given what is likely to be heavily concentrated target volume, both receivers are strong plays despite the difficult matchup.
Steelers at Colts, 8:15 PM Eastern, Monday
Steelers Implied Team Total: 18.25
Kenny Pickett believers have just one more week until he faces a ridiculously vulnerable Falcons secondary. In that matchup, Pickett will have a great chance to translate impressive accuracy into impressive efficiency. Pickett ranks third in CPOE this season but just 30th in EPA per play.
While the Falcons offer some hope for improvement, this matchup with the Colts sets up as another poor outing for the rookie. Like the Bengals, the Colts don't have much of a pass rush, but they are strong in the secondary. The Colts rank 10th in PFF's coverage grades and 10th in EPA allowed per dropback. This is a problem for Pickett, who has not played well within structure this season. From a clean pocket, Pickett ranks 36th in PFF's quarterback grades. Only Sam Ehlinger, Baker Mayfield, and Cooper Rush have been worse.
Pickett will also be dealing with the fact that the Colts are strong against the run, removing whatever small chance Najee Harris had of an impressively efficient performance. Harris has been brutal this season, ranking RB46 in RYOE / attempt and RB47 in success rate. Only Clyde Edwards-Helaire has a lower success rate this season.
But as a sign of just how uninspiring Pickett has been so far, the Steelers look to be getting the ball in Harris' hands more often. Against the Bengals, the Steelers posted a -8% PROE, their lowest of the season so far. This matchup doesn't set up well for a run-heavy game plan, but we could still see them pound the rock if their goal is to hide their rookie quarterback.
The Steelers' potential to shift to the run is very bad news for a receiving corps that depends on volume for production. If the Steelers really are going to be a run-heavy team, it might be finally time to call it on Diontae Johnson.
I've never been a particularly ardent Diontae Johnson supporter. I was too low on him as a prospect, and his emergence caught me off guard. I then spent the next few years feeling like he was overdrafted. To quote Rotoworld's original Pat, I considered him a "PRR scam." Well... I got left holding the bag. Because somehow, I'm the last living human who thinks that Diontae Johnson is actually good.
Johnson ranks WR4 in ESPN's open score and leads the Steelers in both target share (24%) and air yard share (30%). His 5.3 YPT is crazy low, but I'm betting he eventually sees some positive regression. But I'll wait to fight that battle until he plays the Falcons next week. Go ahead and bench him against the Colts; see if I care.
Because, to be honest, Pat Freiermuth might be the No. 1 target in this offense. As a tight end, Freiermuth doesn't run as many routes as Johnson or George Pickens, but the offense is running through him when he is on the field. Freiermuth has a team-leading 24% target rate and 20% first-read target rate. I tend to be pretty skeptical of tight ends until they flash an elite profile at the NFL level... but that's exactly what Freiermuth is doing right now.
George Pickens had a nice game against the Bengals, but he still looks like a risky bet going forward. With 90% route participation, Pickens will be on the field plenty, but his per-route opportunity is well below Freiermuth's and Johnson's.
Colts Implied Team Total: 20.75
We're a couple weeks into the Jeff Saturday era, and he's showing some clear indications of the type of offense he wants to run. For example, when discussing the Colts' offensive approach against the Raiders in Week 10, I wrote, "given the context of the matchup, I view it as a clear indication that Saturday plans to lean on the running game."
Against the Eagles, the Colts just did that. The Colts posted another -7% PROE but shifted hard to the run on first down, with a ridiculously low -19% PROE on 1st-and-10.
This week will test Saturday's commitment to the run game. The Colts are now going against a Steelers run defense that has shown some promise on the ground, ranking seventh in rushing success rate. Meanwhile, the Steelers have been more consistently beaten through the air, ranking 21st in dropback success rate.
But Saturday can—and I think will—justify another run-first game plan... for a couple of reasons. First, the Steelers have T.J. Watt back. And Watt isn't just back in the lineup but playing at an elite level. Watt ranked ninth in PFF's EDGE grades in Week 11, and he ranks seventh this season, despite an underwhelming showing in Week 10, his first game back from injury. Second, the Steelers have allowed big plays on the ground, which is not a great weakness to have against Jonathan Taylor.
Taylor has run much more efficiently since Jeff Saturday took over the team. Through Week 9, Taylor had totaled just 14 rushing yards over expected. He has 77 over the last two weeks. As a result, he now ranks RB16 in RYOE / attempt. He's also up to RB13 in breakaway yards per game and RB15 in elusive rating.
And although Taylor didn't play a ridiculous 94% snap share, like he did against the Raiders, he still had an elite 75% snap share last week. Deon Jackson ate into his route share to an extent, but Taylor still had 64% route participation, which is a strong rate for a running back. Of course, the Colts are still dealing with offensive line issues, will could lead to some frustrating stretches for Taylor in this game. But offensive line issues are all the more reason to worry about Watt's ability to get to the passer, which could lead to more Taylor handoffs and fewer Matt Ryan dropbacks.
With target volume likely to be low, it should help that targets are likely to be concentrated. After seeing a first-read target on 33% of his dropbacks against the Raiders, Michael Pittman cooled off a bit against the Eagles but still had a healthy 19% first-read target rate. And for the second straight week, he ran a route on 100% of dropbacks. Pittman's first read targets are up considerably in his first two games under Saturday, which indicates that the new offense is looking to get him the ball more often. In his last two games, Pittman's first-read target rate is in line with DeAndre Hopkins' league-leading 26% rate.
One thing I got wrong last week was that Saturday was looking to phase out Alec Pierce in favor of Parris Campbell. Instead, Week 11 indicated that the team may still be trying to determine who its No. 2 receiver will be. After running a route on just 63% of dropbacks in Week 10, Pierce was up to 89% last week. Meanwhile, Campbell's route participation dropped from 90% to 78%. Pierce actually led the team with a 27% target share and a 48% air yard share. In a matchup that could lack volume, the speed receiver would be a better dart-throw option than Campbell on the same number of routes. Pierce looks like a viable dart throw, given the chance that he gets more playing time than Campbell.
To write this article I relied on the following stats, metrics and grades.
- Expected Points Added per Play (EPA/Play).
- Efficiency metric based on how much a play improved a team's likelihood of scoring.
- I use this metric primarily for QB efficiency, but also for defensive efficiency.
- Data from Ben Baldwin's rbsdm.com
- For quarterback EPA I reference Adjusted EPA, which discounts penalties for turnovers.
- Completion Percentage Over Expected
- QB accuracy metric
- Pass Rate over Expected
- Measures passing decisions against what would be expected given the game situation.
- Situation Neutral Pass Rate
- Measures pass rate on downs and in situations when a team truly has the choice to pass or run.
- Situation Neutral Seconds per Play
- Seconds between plays in neutral game script.
- Faster play generally means more plays, which provides more opportunity for fantasy scoring.
- Adjusted Line Yards
- Run blocking stat that has been correlated with elite fantasy running back seasons.
- Snaps and Snap Share
- Probably the single most important stat for running back opportunity.
- Teams check in and out of runs with only one back on the field. Being on the field is critical.
- Data from Pro Football Focus, AddMoreFunds and RotoViz
- Third down and Red Zone Snaps from Sam Hoppen's Player Stat Explorer at 4for4.com
- Probably the single most important stat for running back opportunity.
- Target Share and Air Yard share
- The combination of these is called WOPR. Created by Josh Hermsmeyer, this metric scales from 0-1.
- Data from Pro Football Focus and RotoViz
- The combination of these is called WOPR. Created by Josh Hermsmeyer, this metric scales from 0-1.
- Routes run per dropback
- Snap share for receivers... since I'm not concerned with who is playing run-blocking snaps.
- Data from Pro Football Focus
- Snap share for receivers... since I'm not concerned with who is playing run-blocking snaps.
- Yards Per Route Run
- A YPRR of 1.8+ is good and anything 2+ is very good.
- This metric is particularly useful for young wide receivers whose role could grow as a result of strong play.
- It can also help identify truly elite wide receivers.
- It filters out in-game injuries and blowouts much better than target share does.
- Data from PFF
- Expected YPRR
- Derived from Ben Gretch's Weighted Targets per Route Run calculation
- Scaled to 0 - 3.5, in line with YPRR instead of 0 - 1 scale.
- Derived from Ben Gretch's Weighted Targets per Route Run calculation
- Target per Route Run
- TPRR and Yards per Target combine to make up YPRR.
- TPRR is especially useful for tight ends.
- Some offenses and quarterbacks prioritize throwing to the tight end much more than others.
- Some tight ends are far better at getting open than others.
- TPRR is much more stable than YPT, so in small samples especially, I'd rather know who is drawing targets than what happened afterward.
- Expected Fantasy Points.
- Both RotoViz and PFF have similar Expected Points metrics that adjust opportunity based on the context of each play.
- I am referencing PFF's metric unless otherwise stated.
- Both RotoViz and PFF have similar Expected Points metrics that adjust opportunity based on the context of each play.
- A number of other PFF stats including Time to Throw, Play Action Rate, Pressure Rate, Screen Passes and Defensive Grades.