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Friday Walkthrough

Walkthrough Week 15: Gronk Spike Week

by Pat Kerrane
Updated On: December 19, 2021, 5:07 pm ET

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Welcome to the Friday Walkthrough. Every week I'll be outlining critical fantasy football context for the upcoming slate of games. 

At the end of the article, I've included an extensive list of the stats used as well as what they are, why they're useful, and where they came from.

Byes: None

Already Played: Already Played: Chiefs, Chargers

Patriots at Colts, 8:15 PM Eastern, Saturday

Patriots Implied Team Total (from PointsBet): 21.5

Mac Jones has been highly accurate this year, completing 73% of his passes (excluding garbage time). Jones' expected completion percentage is only 67%. He's been far more accurate than expected and has the third-highest completion percentage over expected (CPOE) in the NFL. Jones is also playing efficiently and ranks 13th in EPA* per play. And his efficiency was trending up heading into the Patriots' Week 14 bye.

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Jones now gets a Colts defense that is somewhat vulnerable through the air. They rank an imposing ninth in EPA allowed per dropback but have faced three extremely weak offenses: the Jets, Jaguars, and Texans (twice), all of whom rank bottom five in EPA per dropback. Jones should be able to keep the Patriots' offense moving against them.

Jakobi Meyers is the only (somewhat) trustworthy Patriots receiver. Meyers has a 23% target share and a 29% air yard share. Unfortunately, he's running very cold with a 7.1 YPT. But if Jones continues to play well, he should have some positive regression on the way. Meyers is in the mix as a WR3.

The Colts are a solid run defense, ranking seventh in EPA allowed per rush and fifth in run defense grade. But the Patriots are likely to deploy a run-heavy game plan anyway. The Patriots are tied with the Eagles and Saints for 28th in pass rate over expected and rank 26th in situation-neutral pass rate.

With Damien Harris out with a hamstring injury, Rhamondre Stevenson will lead the Patriots backfield. When Harris missed Week 10, Stevenson handled 55% of snaps and 69% of backfield attempts. Stevenson also had a 21% target share, but he ran a route on just 32% of routes, so that level of involvement as a receiver is improbable to repeat.

Stevenson's workload is a solid foundation, but he'll also need to be efficient to have a big day. Fortunately, Stevenson has been highly efficient this season. He ranks RB12 in NFL Next Gen's success/attempt metric and RB4 in both elusive rating and yards per route run. Stevenson provides tackle breaking and receiving chops while also providing consistent chunk gains. The matchup could hamper him somewhat, but Stevenson profiles as a high-end RB2. 

*(Expected Points Added, EPA, is an efficiency metric that calculates the expected points of a game situation compared to the previous play. This measures how much each play added or subtracted from a team's point expectation. I exclude garbage time for all EPA data in this article and used adjusted EPA per play, which caps the penalty for negative plays. Data courtesy of rbsdm.com)

Colts Implied Team Total (from PointsBet): 24

Carson Wentz is a very strange passer. Wentz has struggled badly with accuracy this season, ranking 28th in CPOE. But he's been great on deep throws, ranking 12th in adjusted completion percentage on 20+ yard passes. Oddly, Wentz doesn't attempt deep throws at a super high clip, ranking 17th in deep ball rate. Because he's inaccurate on everything but deep throws... and doesn't attempt a ton of deep throws... he's inaccurate overall.

The Patriots don't set up as a great matchup for him. They are allowing 15+ yard passes at the eighth-lowest rate. Wentz could be in for a rough outing if he is forced to operate a methodical offense based on short-intermediate completions. The Patriots are a strong defense, ranking fifth in EPA allowed per dropback, 20th in pass-rush grade, and first in coverage grade. As the 20th ranked quarterback in EPA per play, Wentz has a low floor this week.

Michael Pittman has a 24% target share and a 32% air yard share. He's the clear WR1 on the Colts. He's also not necessarily hurt by this matchup. While Pittman can beat defenses deep, he's not strictly a deep threat. With an 11.3 aDOT, he is used at a variety of depths. Pittman will need to be heavily involved if the Colts have any chance of sustaining long drives through the passing game. This is not a game environment where any ancillary options are enticing, but Pittman is solid.

Clearly, the Colts will be looking to lean on Jonathan Taylor as much as possible this week. The Patriots are a solid run defense that ranks sixth in EPA allowed per rush and 10th in run defense grade. But teams are attacking them heavily on the ground. Patriots opponents are averaging a -3% pass rate over expected and shifting 4% to the run. The Patriots are similar to the Raiders in that they have a solid run defense that teams are attacking anyway because of their strong pass defense.

Taylor should be just fine regardless of the matchup, as long as he gets his touches. Taylor leads the league in success/attempt and ranks second in breakaway percentage, 10th in elusive rating, and 15th in YPRR. He's the obvious guy to take away in the Colts offense, but behind an offensive line that ranks fifth in Football Outsiders' adjusted line yards, that's easier said than done.

Cowboys at Giants, 1 PM Eastern, Sunday

Cowboys Implied Team Total (from PointsBet): 27.25

Dak Prescott is in line for some positive regression. He ranks 11th in CPOE this season but just 17th in EPA per play. So he should be able to produce more efficient play going forward if he can sustain his accuracy. 

Positive regression would come in handy this week. Prescott will probably need to be more highly efficient to deliver high-end fantasy production because his passing volume looks to be at least somewhat capped.

The Cowboys have been tilted to the pass for five straight weeks and are coming off a 4% pass rate over expected. But last faced the pass-funnel Washington defense, and they haven't had a PROE over 5% in any game except their Week 1 pass-fest against the Buccaneers.

Facing the Giants this week, the Cowboys are unlikely to go super pass-heavy. Teams have been fairly balanced when attacking the Giants, and the Giants are better against the pass than the run. They rank 16th in EPA allowed per pass, but 30th in EPA allowed per rush. 

With potentially limited target volume, the Cowboys' passing game is further complicated by a crowded target tree. Maddeningly, the Cowboys gave CeDee Lamb part-time player treatment with all four of Lamb, Amari Cooper, Michael Gallup, and Dalton Schultz healthy. Cooper led with a 98% route rate, Gallup and Schultz were tied at 89%, and Lamb was at just 80%. Lamb leads the Cowboys with an elite 2.21 YPRR. It's a travesty that they're taking him off the field in 2WR sets. 

This bizarre usage makes Lamb and Cooper fairly close as fantasy options. But Lamb is still the better option, with upside for his role to be bigger than last week. His 24% target rate gives him substantially more upside than Cooper's 19% if he's on the field for the same number of routes. 

Gallup has a similar role to Cooper but is running very cold with a 6.9 YPT. He has the same aDOT as Lamb (11.3) and has usable upside even in a low volume environment. 

Dalton Schultz has seen target rates of just 8% in back-to-back weeks. With an aDOT of just 7.4, he looks like a TD-or-bust bet in what is unlikely to be a high-volume passing environment.

Tony Pollard is likely to return this week, but given that he's dealing with a torn plantar fascia, it's unclear how big his role will be. Ezekiel Elliott has not looked good this year, and he bombs almost every metric you look at. But he does rank a respectable 19th in success/attempt. He can still be counted on for chunk gains and has a locked-in goal line role. This looks like a plus setup for him. 

Giants Implied Team Total (from PointsBet): 16.75

With Daniel Jones ruled out again this week, we're going to have to sit through Mike Glennon against arguably the best pass defense in the league. 

Dallas ranks 2nd in EPA allowed per dropback, ninth in pass-rush grade and eighth in coverage grade. And keep in mind who Dallas has played. Their schedule so far has included the Buccaneers, Chargers, Vikings, Falcons, Chiefs, and Raiders—meaning, six of their 13 games have come against top 10 passing offenses.

We have a small sample on Mike Glennon, but what we've seen has been extremely concerning. In a non-garbage time sample of 58 plays this year, Glennon ranks 44th in EPA per play. Only Tyler Huntley has been worse. The Cowboys are in a perfect spot to solidify their reputation as the league's best pass defense; Mike Glennon is not in a perfect spot. We'll likely end up seeing Jake Fromm's debut this week.

Sterling Shepard returned in Week 14 and had a 78% route rate. He will operate at the Giants' WR1, but with a 7.5 aDOT, he doesn't come with much upside.

The Cowboys are more vulnerable against the run, ranking 16th in EPA allowed per rush and 27th in run defense grade. But as Antonio Gibson reminded us last week, you can throw out the rushing matchup when a passing offense entirely collapses.

 Saquon Barkley had a great setup against the Chargers last week but ultimately had a workload of just 14.7 expected points, per PFF. Barkley played efficiently, adding 3.8 points on top of his workload. But Barkley has a concerning setup this week because his passing offense has considerably downside risk than it did against the Chargers.

It's also worth noting that the Giants rank 30th in adjusted line yards. So it's not just Glennon/Fromm that Barkley will be fighting to overcome. He'll also have to overcome poor offensive line play in a difficult matchup. Barkley ranks eighth in breakaway percentage and can still pop big runs. But he looks like a boom/bust RB2. 

Texans at Jaguars, 1 PM Eastern, Sunday

Texans Implied Team Total (from PointsBet): 17.5

Davis Mills was mildly competent in Week 12, ranking 16th in EPA per play and 16th in CPOE. Mills ranks 33rd in EPA per play, but he's up to 26th in CPOE. He's still very bad, but at least he's been more accurate than Andy Dalton.

Mills now gets a Jaguars defense that ranks 31st in EPA allowed per dropback, 25th in pass-rush grade, and 27th in coverage grade. The Jaguars have had a difficult schedule, but they are still clearly an awful defense.

The Texans are a run-first team, but they have shown a willingness to be pass-heavy at times and have a 1% pass rate over expected in Mills' last two games. They won't take full advantage of the Jaguars' pass defense, but they are unlikely to completely ignore the matchup, which could mean usable fantasy production from Brandin Cooks.

Cooks has a 27% target share and a 41% air yard share. Only Justin Jefferson, Tyler Lockett, and Terry McLaurin have higher air yard shares. Playing Cooks is a sure bet to induce nausea, but this looks like one of the better weeks to do it.

The Jaguars are also terrible against the run, ranking 28th in EPA allowed per rush and 30th in run defense grade. David Johnson will be touted this week, but I won't be the one doing it.

Jaguars Implied Team Total (from PointsBet): 22.5

Last week, I detailed how inefficient and inaccurate Trevor Lawrence has been this season. He then was worse against the Titans than he was the week prior against the Rams, turning in his fourth-worst outing of the season. I won't get into all the gory details again. You can tell just by looking at the chart below how disastrous Lawrence's rookie season has been.

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Lest you think I'm kicking Lawrence when he's down... there's a critical reason for optimism this week: Urban Meyer was fired. 

Of course, Lawrence will still be in the same offense. His offensive coordinator Darrell Bevell is now operating as interim head coach. But it seems likely that the organization's dysfunction level should recede from total-and-complete to normal Jaguarian-levels in the coming weeks.

If Lawrence is a better quarterback than he's shown thus far, he has the right matchup to let us know about it. The Texans rank 24th in EPA allowed per dropback and dead last in coverage grade.

But Lawrence also has the potential to reinforce the idea that he isn't who we thought he was. The Texans rank ninth in pass-rush grade and a respectable 14th in pressure rate.

Lawrence has been atrocious when pressured this season. He ranks 39th in both YPA and passer rating under pressure. Only Geno Smith and Taysom Hill have been worse. I'm optimistic that Lawrence can show more than he has so far, but there is still a clear path to failure here if the Texans can harass Lawrence. As we saw against the Titans, the Texans' defense can have its moments.

Laquon Treadwell remains the Jaguars' WR1, which means we can skip right to James O'Shaughnessy... who posted a 68% route rate against the Titans. As a part-time player, he's also better left out of lineups.

The Texans are a weak run defense, ranking 20th in EPA allowed per rush and 29th in run defense grade. And honestly, the Jaguars are likely to be as run-heavy as they can get away with. They have a -2% PROE and rank 25th in situation-neutral pass rate. Given that Urban Meyer had no idea which of his players were on the field at any given time, I'm skeptical that he was driving the run/pass split. 

It also makes sense that the Jaguars are interested in running heavily. The Jaguars rank ninth in adjusted line yards. The run game is the one thing they do decently well, and they'll likely lean on it here.

James Robinson had 65%+ snaps in four of six games to open the season, but he's been below that mark in all five games since his return from injury. But with Carlos Hyde out this week, Robinson should return to his early-season usage. He profiles as a low-end RB1, with the Jaguars potentially running the offense through him as 5 point home favorites. 

Titans at Steelers, 1 PM Eastern, Sunday

Titans Implied Team Total (from PointsBet): 20.75

Ryan Tannehill rebounded in Week 14, finishing eighth in EPA per play and 12th in CPOE. As predicted, the Titans were able to get their ground game going, which led to a high play action rate. Tannehill ran play action on 34% of his dropbacks, the fifth-highest rate on the week.

Tannehill is great at running play action. The trouble is that the Titans have generally been unwilling to call it when their run game gets shut down. So this passing game is literally reliant on establishing the run, even though play action works regardless of the effectiveness of the run game

The Titans don't buy into this idea. But for the second straight week, it won't matter. The Steelers rank 29th in EPA allowed per rush and have had a relatively easy schedule against the run. They're legitimately vulnerable on the ground, as Dalvin Cook just made very clear.

Teams are shifting 3% to the run against the Steelers and are averaging a -3% PROE. At this point, they can be considered a true run funnel. The Titans couldn't be happier about it. Their -6% pass rate over expected is tied with the 49ers for the lowest in the league, and they rank 30th in situation-neutral pass rate.

The Titans run game is likely to be spearheaded by D'Onta Foreman. As Ben Gretch noted in Stealing Signals, Jeremy McNichols didn't play much until the fourth quarter of the Titans' win over the Jaguars, while Foreman saw 13 of his 15 touches in the first half. The snap shares were ambiguous last week, but that kind of usage in a blowout is not. Foreman looks to be the primary back here, with Hilliard behind him, for now.

We have a small sample size on Foreman, but he has yet to pop as a rusher, ranking RB51 in breakaway percentage and RB54 in elusive rating. But Foreman actually ranks RB3 in YPRR. He doesn't profile as a receiving back and hasn't been used extensively there. But he's delivered a 13.5 YPT, which points to some playmaking ability that could translate to the run game moving forward. He's an RB2 option against the Steelers' run funnel. 

The Titans passing game will be limited, but it should be efficient. The Steelers rank 22nd in EPA allowed per dropback and 29th in coverage grade. The only concern is that Steelers rank fourth in pass-rush grade, so there's some downside risk here. But assuming the Titans can be effective on the ground, a heavy play action attack should slow down the Steelers' pass rush.

Even if Tannehill has a nice day, it's difficult to predict where targets will go. Julio Jones has an impressive 2.08 YPRR, but he ran a route on just 61% of dropbacks against the Jaguars and could be limited again. If you're a glutton for punishment, you could chance playing Julio. He has hit an 85%+ route rate twice this year, and it's not out of the question he has a full-time role in his second game back from injury. Nick Westbrook-Ikhine will likely run more routes but has just 1.31 YPRR and looks like a very thin play.

Steelers Implied Team Total (from PointsBet): 22.25

Ben Roethlisberger has been extremely shaky at times this season, but he's managed to keep some fantasy value in the offense. He's worse than mediocre, but he's not a total disaster. Roethlisberger ranks 24th in EPA per play and 25th in CPOE.

Roethlisberger is facing a Titans defense that has been up and down this season. They rank 14th in EPA allowed per dropback, but they aren't truly a middling unit. Instead, they are a defense that can swing pretty wildly from week to week. The Titans rank 26th in pass-rush grade, but they rank second in coverage grade, which helps explain their volatility. But there's no way to really explain a pass defense whose best two outings were against the Chiefs and Rams, but who were beat up by the Texans and Patriots.

One reason for optimism is that the Titans allow 15+ yard passes at the sixth-lowest rate in the league. Roethlisberger couldn't care less about that. He ranks 30th in average depth of target. If the Titans plan to let Roethlisberger dink and dunk his way down the field, he will be more than happy to oblige.

In that type of attack, we know who Roethlisberger will be locked in on: Diontae Johnson. Johnson has an elite 2.17 YPRR while running cold with a 7.8 YPT. Roethlisberger is targeting him on 28% of his routes, and his 0.71 WOPR trails only Davante Adams, Justin Jefferson, Cooper Kupp, and D.J. Moore. The Titans are likely to be run-heavy on the other side, but if they can be efficient about it, Johnson could be in for a high volume day. And at some point, he should see some positive per target regression.

Chase Claypool has 2.06 YPRR, but he could be dealing with at least a short benching after his 1st down signal faux pas. Assuming Claypool's punishment isn't overly dramatic, he looks well-positioned here. His excellent YPPR is fully supported by his target profile. Meaning, as long as he's on the field, he's a good bet to keep up his per route efficiency.

Pat Freiermuth has a 1.25 YPRR, which is very poor. He ran a route on 78% of dropbacks against the Vikings, which is a positive sign. But he remains a TD-dependent option.

The Titans' run defense is less ambiguous than their pass defense—they play the run reasonably well. The Titans rank 12th in EPA allowed per rush and 16th in run defense grade.

The Steelers rank 28th in adjusted line yards and won't provide Najee Harris with a ton of help against a competent defense. Harris is used to it. With 34.3 points less than his expected points workload this season, only Myles Gaskin has left more points on the field. But Harris is also tied with Derrick Henry for second in expected points per game. With a 21.0 expected points workload, only Alvin Kamara (21.2) has had more opportunity per game. Harris is set up for his usual dynamic this week. He's unlikely to be efficient, but he will continue to be heavily utilized. 

Jets at Dolphins, 1 PM Eastern, Sunday

Jets Implied Team Total (from PointsBet): 15.75

Zach Wilson was competent against the Eagles, but he reverted to abject failure against the Saints. In Week 14, he finished 25th in EPA per play and 26th in CPOE. He's now QB35 in both EPA per play and CPOE this season. Only Trevor Siemian has been worse.

Wilson's accuracy is particularly concerning. At times, he's been reasonably accurate. But he has also shown a tendency to come completely off the rails, as he did last week.

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Wilson's struggles don't end there. He's also been awful against the blitz... which is very bad news given his opponent this week. Wilson ranks QB38 in both yards per attempt and passer rating against the blitz. Only Mike Glennon has been worse. And under pressure, Wilson ranks QB34 in YPA and QB36 in passer rating. The Dolphins lead the league with a 42% blitz rate, and only the Packers and Rams are generating pressure on a higher percentage of their plays. And overall, the Dolphins have a strong pass defense, ranking sixth in EPA allowed per dropback. They are also solid in coverage, ranking 12th in coverage grade. So Wilson is unlikely to easily punish the Dolphins for regularly blitzing him.

The Jets know how bad Wilson will fare in this matchup. When they played the Dolphins in Week 11, they ensured that Wilson's knee was not quite ready. He then returned the following week against a far easier Texans defense. The Jets have no choice but to play Wilson here. It's likely to be a long day.

Jamison Crowder ran a route on 94% of dropbacks against the Saints but delivered just 3-for-19 on six targets. Crowder has a 1.11 YPRR, and his 18% target rate isn't going to do it with a 6.1 aDOT. Keelan Cole and Denzel Mims are even thinner options, and I can't justify going there.

It was only a few weeks ago when we learned who Austin Walter was, but now the Jets backfield is suddenly crowded. Tevin Coleman (concussion) is expected back this week, and Michael Carter (ankle) looks likely to return from injured reserve.

Carter holds some appeal, as a bet that he'll have a high target share. It would make sense for the Jets to utilize him on screens and other short targets against the blitz. Carter is also simply one of the Jets' better receiving weapons at this point. But Coleman and Ty Johnson could see enough work to make Carter a frustrating start in his first game back.

Dolphins Implied Team Total (from PointsBet): 25.25

Tua Tagovailoa has been impressively accurate this season. He has steadily trended up in accuracy and is now sixth in CPOE.

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Tagovailoa hasn't been as impressive in efficiency but ranks a respectable 16th in EPA per play. His accuracy has allowed him to post some nice weeks... but he's not ideally suited to take advantage of this matchup. 

Tagovailoa has a 6.9 average depth of target, which is deeper than only Jared Goff's 6.8 and Mike White's 6.4. Meanwhile, the Jets' biggest weakness is the deep ball; they are allowing 15+ yard passes at the highest rate in the league.

Don't get me wrong, Tua can still have a big day even without throwing deep. Gardner Minshew found success against the Jets with a 6.1 aDOT, and Taysom Hill was productive with a comically low 4.5 aDOT. The Jets rank 32nd in EPA allowed per dropback and 30th in coverage grade, so they're not going to be a huge impediment regardless of how the Dolphins attack. But given his preference for shallow throws, Tagovailoa could leave some meat on the bone here.

On the other hand, Tagovailoa should have plenty of volume this week. The Dolphins have a 5% pass rate over expected; only the Buccaneers, Chiefs, and Chargers are more tilted toward the pass. And the Dolphins' entire running back room is either injured or on the Covid list. It's to the point where they could be playing Duke Johnson and Gerrid Doaks. The Jets rank 31st in EPA allowed per rush and 32nd in run defense grade. So Johnson or Doaks could have value as a dart throw option. If Malcolm Brown returns from injured reserve, he should consolidate enough volume to serve as an RB2 option. But regardless of who plays running back, the Dolphins are likely to lean on Tagovailoa to guide them to victory. 

DeVante Parker will operate as the Dolphins' clear WR1 with Jaylen Waddle out. He has been targeted at an impressive 21% rate for his 12.8 aDOT. So he should be heavily involved. He could see a bit of positive regression on 8.3 YPT as well. Parker profiles as a high-volume option who could deliver some big plays if Tagovailoa takes advantage of the matchup and challenges the Jets deep.

Mike Gesicki has an interesting profile this week as well. He has a 9.0 aDOT, which also puts him in the mix for downfield targets. And his 20% target rate is a strong showing for a tight end. Gesicki looks like a low-end TE1 with targets available in the offense.

Cardinals at Lions, 1 PM Eastern, Sunday

Cardinals Implied Team Total (from PointsBet): 29.75

Kyler Murray had some unfortunate errors against the Rams, and despite making some incredible plays, had a down week in efficiency. He finished 22nd in EPA per play and 14th in CPOE. 

Murray is still having a very strong season, ranking eighth in EPA per play and first in CPOE. And he's in an ideal bounce-back spot against a Lions defense that will simply be overmatched this week.

The Lions rank 30th in EPA allowed per dropback, 28th in pass-rush grade, and 31st in coverage grade. And they look particularly ill-suited to stop the Cardinals.

Kyler Murray has an 8.6 aDOT, the 10th deepest average depth of target. He's also attempting deep passes at the fourth-highest rate and leads the NFL in adjusted completion percentage on deep passes. Kyler Murray is an incredible deep passer, and he's been regularly attacking downfield.

Meanwhile, the Lions are allowing 15+ yard receptions at the second-highest rate in the league. Murray could be in for a massive week.

Obviously, he'll be without DeAndre Hopkins, who is out for the rest of the regular season. But Murray wasn't leaning on Hopkin like he did last year. Hopkins has only been targeted on 18% of his routes, the fifth-highest rate on the team.

Christian Kirk leads all full-time Cardinals with 1.93 YPRR and looks like the Cardinals' new WR1... to the extent that any Cardinals wide receiver can be categorized as the team's WR1. Kirk led the team in route rate in Weeks 9, 10, and 11, with Hopkins out of the lineup. He's now likely to return to an inside/outside role that keeps him on the field for nearly every snap.

A.J. Green hasn't had an 80%+ route rate since Week 8. So while he may see more routes with Hopkins out, his role could easily stay the same, with additional outside routes for Antoine Wesley instead. That's what we saw in Weeks 9 and 10, with Green in the lineup but Hopkins out.

It's also possible we see additional work for Rondale Moore. Moore had a 62% route rate in Week 13 but dropped to 47% in Week 14. But it's hard not to be at least a little interested in Moore. He's flashed some serious playmaking ability. It would make so much sense for his role to grow, even if it is ultimately unlikely that he sees a major increase in routes this week. 

Chase Edmonds is due back this week, and James Conner is now the one dealing with an ankle injury. Conner has been a revelation in the passing game, ranking RB12 in YPRR. And he's been terrific at the goal line as well. But Conner's production also highlights how valuable the lead role in this backfield is. Conner ranks a respectable RB21 in elusive rating but is just RB36 in success/attempt and RB42 in breakaway percentage. Edmonds ranks second in success/attempt and ninth in breakaway percentage; he ranks just RB33 in elusive rating and RB32 in YPRR. With Conner, we had a back who could make people miss as a runner and receiver but wasn't a breakaway threat. Edmonds has been more consistent and a more explosive rusher, but he's gone down a lot quicker. Still, if Conner misses the game, Edmonds is just a different flavor of the same high upside running back play that we've had with Conner in recent weeks. If Conner plays, both backs are in the RB2 mix.

Lions Implied Team Total (from PointsBet): 17.25

I have been in the extremely uncomfortable position of predicting positive regression for Jared Goff over the last few weeks, and remarkably, Goff has delivered. Goff hasn't been good, but recently he's stopped being terrible, with three straight weeks of positive EPA per play.

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This version of Goff makes more sense, given his respectable accuracy. We should expect him to be mediocre-poor in most weeks, but not a catastrophe. This isn't most weeks, though.

The Cardinals are a borderline elite pass defense that ranks third in EPA allowed per dropback, seventh in pass-rush grade, and 14th in coverage grade. The silver lining is that Goff renders one of the Cardinals' biggest defensive strengths totally irrelevant. The Cardinals are allowing 15+ yard receptions at the second-lowest rate. But Goff is attempting deep passes at the 27th highest rate and has a 6.8 aDOT, the second-lowest in the league.

Still, it won't be lost on the Cardinals that Goff poses no threat downfield. And they are a difficult defense to move the ball against in general, allowing first downs at the sixth-lowest rate. So it's likely to be a rough day for Goff and company.

The Amon-Ra St. Brown "breakout" is kind of hilarious. He has a very poor 1.28 YPRR this season, but he also has 18 catches over his last two games. Just getting some sort of production out of this passing game has been exciting. But St. Brown isn't the type of option to stick with in a difficult setting.

Brock Wright week was not fun. He ran a route on just 36% of dropbacks. Shane Zylstra rest-of-season is even less fun. He had a 57% route rate and isn't usable.

The Cardinals are more vulnerable on the ground than through the air, ranking 13th in EPA allowed per rush and 31st in run defense grade. And the Lions would love to be an extremely run-heavy team. The Lions rank 27th with a -4% PROE, so they are decidedly run-first. But the Lions rank 32d in situation-neutral pass rate. If they were more competitive, they would presumably be the most run-heavy team in the league. 

Obviously, as 12.5 point underdogs, they won't have the luxury to run the ball extensively this week. And with D'Andre Swift and Jamaal Williams likely both out again, I can't possibly recommend Craig Reynolds. Reynolds is probably the play here, though. He handled 46% of snaps and 58% of backfield touches. Godwin Igwebuike logged 44% snaps and 42% of backfield attempts. But Igwebuike was expected to have more of a lead as a receiver. And while he led the backfield with a 40% route rate, he wasn't targeted. Reynolds wasn't far behind at 36% and was targeted twice. This looks like a true committee, and both backs are just desperation plays. If Jamaal Williams can return, he would be back in the mix as a TD-dependent low-end RB2.

Panthers at Bills, 1 PM Eastern, Sunday

Panthers Implied Team Total (from PointsBet): 16

Cam Newton finished 19th in EPA per play against the Falcons, but he was highly inaccurate, finishing 23rd in CPOE. In fact, he was so inaccurate that he was literally benched twice in the same game. Unless he plays significantly better, we'll likely see P.J. Walker again this week. And it's now possible we see Sam Darnold under center at some point this season. Regardless of who is at quarterback, the Panthers are not likely to field an efficient passing offense against the Bills.

The Bills rank first in EPA allowed per dropback, 14th in pass-rush grade, and fourth in coverage grade. As their schedule has gotten harder, they've lost some of their early-season luster. But they remain a formidable defense.

D.J. Moore is the only option worth considering unless you're trying to take down the Milly Maker. Moore has 2.02 YPRR; the next highest wide receiver on the Panthers, Robby Anderson, has 0.82 YPRR. Moore's ability to produce in this passing attack is extremely impressive.

Moore is managing to maintain high per route efficiency but utterly dominating target volume. Only Davante Adams and Justin Jefferson rank higher in WOPR. Moore is a boom/bust option whose ceiling is limited by his offense, in the mold of Terry McLaurin.

The Bills are also a capable run defense, ranking fifth in EPA allowed per rush and 13th in run defense grade. They've been exposed a few times by excellent rushing attacks. But the Panthers are unlikely to dictate the game on the ground.

If the Panthers can keep the game close, Chuba Hubbard could be in for a nice game. He handled 71% of backfield attempts against the Falcons and is the Panthers' clear early-down back. But as 12 point underdogs, it's more likely that Ameer Abdullah leads the team in snaps, as he did last week with a 59% snap share. Abdullah had an 11% target share and was the only Panthers running back to be targeted. He looks like an RB2 fill-in option.

Bills Implied Team Total (from PointsBet): 28

Josh Allen is coming off a huge fantasy week, but his fantasy production was driven by a season-high 54 pass attempts and a season-high 12 rushing attempts. His high volume rushing day led to a season-high 109 rushing yards and a touchdown. Meanwhile, his 308-2 passing line is good in a vacuum but far from ideal on 54 attempts. This fits with a concerning downtrend for Allen in efficiency this season. 

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There are a couple of reasons to be nervous about Allen this week. First, he will be playing through an injured foot, putting additional pressure on him to deliver through the air. Second, the Panthers have been a difficult matchup for opposing quarterbacks.

Fortunately, the Panthers' defense has also been trending down. Like the Bills, our impression of them appears to have been inflated by an easy early-season schedule. They have come back to the pack in recent weeks.

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The Panthers are still a strong pass defense, ranking fourth in EPA allowed per dropback, 11th in pass-rush grade, and 11th in coverage grade. But perhaps more concerningly, they are also a run funnel. Teams are shifting 5% to the run against the Panthers. With Josh Allen unlikely to run at his usual clip, this matchup doesn't play to the Bills' strengths.

Stefon Diggs still stands out as a very strong play. He has an impressive 1.98 YPRR but is running cold with an 8.2 YPT. If he had last year's connection with Allen, he would be having an incredible season. I'm betting that Diggs and Allen will eventually begin clicking like they did in 2020. Admittedly, this isn't an ideal setting, but Diggs' 26% target share and 35% air yard share put him in play every week.

Cole Beasley had an 87% route rate and a 23% target share against the Buccaneers. He will continue being heavily involved with Emmanuel Sanders injured. And he could benefit if Allen is less mobile than usual and willing to check the ball down more frequently as a result.

Dawson Knox led the team with ha 90% route rate against the Buccaneers and really does look like this year's Logan Thomas. He's somewhat TD-dependent with just a 1.35 YPRR, but his elite route rate makes him interesting in any matchup.

Gabriel Davis is suddenly in the mix with Emmanuel Sanders out. Davis had an 81% route rate against the Buccaneers and should see a similar role this week. Davis is second on the team with a 1.71 YPRR. And despite being a rotational player, he is tied for third with four TDs. With a 13.0 aDOT, he has an appealing combination of big-play ability, TD equity, and a full-time role.

Zack Moss was healthy scratched again in Week 14. But he could easily be active this week since the Bills won't need to activate every wide receiver in the building like they did against the Buccaneers. Devin Singletary handled 82% of snaps in Moss's absence but logged just four rushing attempts. In fact, Matt Brieda had just one less carry despite playing on only 14% of snaps. Singletary had a 14% target share and is an interesting RB2 if Moss is scratched again, but this backfield looks like a stay-away if Moss is active.

Bengals at Broncos, 4:05 PM Eastern, Sunday

Bengals Implied Team Total (from PointsBet): 20.5

Joe Burrow had a down week in accuracy against the 49ers, finishing 17th in CPOE. He wasn't terrible, but Burrow has typically been highly accurate, ranking fifth in CPOE this season. With that level of accuracy, his 14th ranked efficiency has potential for some positive regression, provided he can maintain his accuracy going forward.

The Broncos are a solid defense, but they shouldn't be a problem. They rank 17th in EPA allowed per dropback, 29th in pass-rush grade, and 22nd in coverage grade. Burrow should be able to bounce back here. 

The bigger issue for Burrow is that he'll need to be efficient because overall play volume is a concern. The Bengals played a series of run-funnel defenses from Weeks 9-13 in the Browns, Raiders, Steelers, and Chargers. But they played the 49ers in Week 14, who are not a run-funnel, and they still finished with a -3% pass rate over expected. The Broncos aren't a run-funnel either, but the Bengals may simply be a run-first team. 

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The Bengals also play slow, ranking 30th in situation-neutral seconds per play. The Broncos play slow as well, ranking 29th. This game could have very little play volume if the Bengals don't speed it up through their downfield passing attack. 

Ja'Marr Chase still leads the Bengals in YPRR, but just barely. Chase's 2.27 YPRR is elite, but so is Tee Higgins' 2.22. And Higgins leads Chase 24% to 21% in target rate. With a 12.4 aDOT, Higgins isn't even that much less likely to deliver big plays than Chase (14.4 aDOT). If we see a true Burrow blowup game, I suspect that will be accompanied by Chase going off. But Higgins is just as big a part of the offense right now. Both players look like strong WR2 options.

Tyler Boyd has 1.49 YPRR and is interesting in scenarios where the Bengals have a high volume passing day. Those scenarios seem unlikely this week, though. Instead, the preferred bet is on big plays and TDs, which are coming through Chase and Higgins.

Joe Mixon played 60% of snaps in Week 14, playing through an illness. It was his lowest snap rate since Week 7. Mixon has handled 66% of snaps this season and 79% of backfield attempts. If the Bengals continue to lean toward the run, Mixon could be in for a nice day—particularly if the Bengals can play from ahead, despite being 3 point underdogs.

Broncos Implied Team Total (from PointsBet): 23.5

Teddy Bridgewater had a good week against the Lions, finishing ninth in EPA per play and 10th in CPOE. But did he? Bridgewater threw for 179 yards against the Lions. Sure, he played efficiently, but that efficiency facilitated a heavy rushing attack. It didn't actually lead to any fantasy production through the air.

This week Bridegwater faces a middling Bengals defense that ranks 12th in EPA allowed per dropback. But passing volume remains a major concern. The Broncos have a -3% pass rate over expected and are a firmly run-first team. 

Fortunately, they are a facing Cincinnati pass-funnel, with teams shifting 3% to the pass against the Bengals. That should help boost passing attempts. But as covered above, both teams play slow, and overall volume is likely to be limited. 

Well, I gave Courtland Sutton one last chance... and he delivered one reception for nine yards against a Lions defense that is getting burned deep every week. At this point, Jerry Jeudy looks like the only option in this passing attack worth investing in. He has a 2.08 YPRR, which is a very strong showing. Jeudy profiles as a WR3, as a bet that the Bengals can push the Broncos to pass.

If this game does devolve into a slog, the silver lining is that the Bengals aren't that great against the run; they rank 21st in EPA allowed per rush and 15th in run defense grade. If the Broncos ignore the pass-funnel and instead choose to attack primarily on the ground, the Bengals shouldn't be able to shut them down.

When an aging veteran returns from injury, it is imperative to immediately reinstall him, even if it means playing him over the NFL's best rookie running back, coming off a breakout game. The Broncos, in their wisdom, did just that, giving Melvin Gordon 62% of backfield attempts in his Week 14 return.

Javonte Williams played 49% of snaps to Gordon's 50% against the Lions and had just 38% of backfield attempts. The silver lining in this maddening usage is that Williams saw both backfield targets and led Gordon 14-to-8 in routes run.

In fairness to Gordon, he was awesome against the Lions, delivering 3.1 points over expected on an elite 20 point workload. But Williams was even better, delivering 8.3 points above expected on a middling 13 point workload.

I understand why the Broncos are playing Gordon... both backs can play. But Williams is an emerging superstar, so forgive my impatience. With the Broncos unlikely to establish as they did against the Lions, Gordon looks like a TD-dependent RB2. You'll be shocked to learn that I'm more intrigued by Williams this week. The rookie leads the league in elusive rating and is a better bet for repeated chunk gains as a rusher and receiver.

Falcons at 49ers, 4:05 PM Eastern, Sunday

Falcons Implied Team Total (from PointsBet): 18.75

Matt Ryan is having a solid season, ranking 15th in EPA per play and 17th in CPOE. This week he gets an exploitable 49ers defense that ranks 27th in EPA allowed per dropback, 18th in pass-rush grade, and 16th in coverage grade. Ryan is set up for a decently efficient game.

Ryan is unlikely to see a huge boost in volume, however. The Falcons are deploying a balanced attack and now face a 49ers team that opponents have been balanced against. And the 49ers are run-heavy and slow, so it will be on the Falcons to speed the game up. Pace guru Pat Thorman notes that when trailing by 7+, the Falcons operate at the 10th-slowest pace. As 9.5 point underdogs, that doesn't have me feeling great about their chances of speeding up this game.

Decent efficiency on middling volume more or less sums up Kyle Pitts' season. His 1.88 YPRR is a good mark and an excellent mark for a rookie tight end. But his 82% route rate is a bit lower than ideal. It's a great rate for a tight end but well below most full-time wide receivers. Nevertheless, Pitts has an 11.1 aDOT and is the best way to play the passing offense since he can get there on big plays or target volume.

The 49ers are much better against the run than the pass, ranking fourth in EPA allowed per rush and seventh in run defense grade. Arthur Smith has admitted that he's managing Cordarrelle Patterson's reps, which explains why the Falcons' best playmaker has played more than 60% of snaps just once all season. But Patterson's role also appears to have shifted a bit.

Patterson is still in play as an RB2, but he needs a restoration of his receiving role to avoid having a TD-dependent ceiling.

49ers Implied Team Total (from PointsBet): 27.75

Jimmy Garoppolo is having a very strong season, ranking fifth in EPA per play. His accuracy ranks just 16th, however, and he's likely to see some negative regression at some point. But even if he does see negative regression, he can easily continue to play highly efficiently in this matchup.

The Falcons rank 25th in EPA allowed per dropback, 32nd in pass-rush grade, and 25th in coverage grade. And those rankings may be overstating the quality of the Falcons' defense. The Falcons have had to play the Buccaneers twice. But they've also played the Jets, Panthers (twice), Jaguars, Saints, Giants, and Eagles, who are all bottom 11 passing offenses. The Falcons are extremely vulnerable through the air.

The 49ers are unlikely to take full advantage of this matchup. They have a -6% pass rate over expected, which is tied with the Titans for the lowest in the league. But they should be efficient through the air.

George Kittle is making a statement. With back-to-back lines of 9-181-2 and 13-151-1, he's staking his claim as the 49ers' WR1 and the NFL's best tight end. Kittle has an ultra-elite 2.68 YPRR, and although he's running hot with ha 10.1 YPT, his 27% target rate indicates that he can continue posting elite efficiency. 

Brandon Aiyuk is operating as the 49ers' classic WR1, with a 98% route rate in Week 14. But Aiyuk has a 1.49 YPRR and still isn't delivering what we'd hoped he would this preseason.

Deebo Samuel's breakout has been slowed due to injury and hybrid usage, which has him operating as an RB/WR. 

Samuel should be in a similar role with Elijah Mitchell out again this week. He can still deliver a big week, but Samuel is more TD-dependent than when he dominated target share as a true wide receiver.

The Falcons are also beatable on the ground, ranking 17th in EPA allowed per rush and 21st in run defense grade. The Falcons are better against the run than the pass, but probably not to the point that the 49ers will shift from their preferred run-heavy approach.

With Mitchell out, Jeff Wilson will carry the load for the 49ers. Wilson only played 59% of snaps against the Bengals. He also technically handled 100% of backfield attempts but led Deebo Samuel just 13-to-8 in carries. Wilson is the clear running back play on the 49ers, but he looks like a TD-dependent RB2.

Packers at Ravens, 4:25 PM Eastern, Sunday

Packers Implied Team Total (from PointsBet): 25

Aaron Rodgers is having another MVP caliber season. He ranks third in EPA per play and second in CPOE. Green Bay's offensive volume is the only thing holding Rodgers back from an absurdly productive season.

The Packers make a sport of playing slow. They rank 28th in situation-neutral pace, but that actually understates how little play volume we can rely on them for... because the Packers are constantly milking the clock, regardless of the situation.

The Packers snap the ball with an average of 6.2 seconds left on the play clock, the slowest in the league. They're even slower when winning, snapping the ball with an average of 5.5 seconds on the play clock, the lowest in the league. They speed up slightly to 7.0 seconds when trailing, but that is also the lowest average in the league. They also have the fewest seconds remaining when tied and hilariously, the fewest seconds remaining on their opening drives. The Packers start slow and stay slow, regardless of the circumstances.

The Packers are a pass-first team, with a 3% pass rate over expected. And Baltimore is a pass funnel, with opponents shifting to the pass against them. So we should see some additional passing volume in this game.

But with Lamar Jackson most likely out, the Ravens are probably not going to push the Packers in a meaningful way. And if the Packers aren't pushed, they're going grind the clock and severely limit play volume.

Fortunately, the Packers have two receivers well suited to this type of game environment.

Davante Adams can get there in any given week because he dominates receiving volume to an absurd degree. Adams has a 33% target share and a 40% air yard share and leads the league in WOPR. 

Marquez Valdes-Scantling also is a natural fit for this matchup. The Ravens are allowing a 15+ yard pass at the fifth-highest rate in the league. Valdes-Scantling is a 15+ yard pass waiting to happen with an 18.6 aDOT. Valdes-Scantling has exactly one spike week this year, but it came against a Vikings defense allowing 15+ yard passes at the fourth-highest rate. He's one of the most challenging types of players to predict, but he's definitely interesting this week.

Aaron Jones is battling a knee injury and an illness. If he plays, he will likely be in a 50/50 split with A.J. Dillon. In which case, both players would be RB2 options. If Jones misses the game, Dillon looks like an RB1.

The Ravens are actually quite stout against the run, ranking first in EPA allowed per rush and 11th in run defense grade. They have had a middle-of-the-road schedule and look legitimately strong in run defense. But if Jones were to miss the game, Dillon would be set up for a high-end receiving role. Given that he ranks sixth in YPRR, Dillon can make a fantasy meal out of 4-5 short targets on top of his rushing workload. 

Ravens Implied Team Total (from PointsBet): 18.5

Lamar Jackson looks like a long shot to suit up against the Packers, putting Tyler Huntley in line to start. If Jackson can go, it would be a huge boost to the Ravens' offense. Jackson has had an up and down season and ranks just 23rd in EPA per play and 22nd in CPOE. But even a limited Jackson is likely to be better for the Ravens' offense than Huntley. We're dealing with small sample sizes, but Huntley ranks 42nd (dead last) in EPA per play this season.

Don't let that scare you off of Huntley as a fantasy option in his own right. Huntley has been decently accurate, ranking 33rd in CPOE. He ranks between Jalen Hurts and Justin Fields in accuracy, convenient since those quarterbacks serve as helpful fantasy comps. He also ranks well above Taysom Hill (40th in CPOE). Huntley looks like a solid spot start or DFS option, but it'll be tough to count on his weapons.

The Packers rank 13th in EPA allowed per dropback, second in pass-rush grade, and ninth in coverage grade. They are a strong defense that could create headaches for Baltimore with Huntley at the helm.

In Huntley's Week 11 start, the Ravens had a -8% PROE. And although they were at -1% last week, they are likely to be as run-heavy as they can get away with here. As a result, we're likely to see limited passing volume.

Marquise Brown has been disappointing in recent weeks, but his 22% target rate is still impressive for his 13.3 aDOT. Brown has an 8.5 YPT, which is below expectations and sets him up for positive regression. But it's hard to be excited about that prospect with Huntley under center. Still, Brown will be running routes and earning targets at a high rate.

Mark Andrews went off against the Browns, and his 1.97 YPRR this season is fully supported by his target profile. Andrews isn't quite as involved in the offense as Brown, but the tight end is essentially the co-WR1 in the offense.

Rashod Bateman had a 75% route rate in Week 14, but that was largely due to Sammy Watkins missing most of the game with a knee injury. Watkins is expected back, and although Bateman looks like an emerging star, he's a weak play against the Packers.

Devonta Freeman has taken over the Ravens backfield. Over the last two weeks, he has a 68% snap share and 87% of backfield attempts. Latavius Murray can still steal the occasional goal line look, but Freeman is a legitimate workhorse. I'm not going to share his ranks in the various rushing metrics because I don't want to bum you out. Freeman is a volume-based RB2.

The Packers actually are more vulnerable on the ground, ranking 24th in EPA allowed per rush. Although, the Ravens running game probably isn't strong enough to take full advantage. And a moderately successful run game runs the risk of further slowing down a game that Green Bay will be doing its darndest to end before the 4:05 games finish up. 

Saints at Buccaneers, 8:20 PM Eastern, Sunday

Saints Implied Team Total (from PointsBet): 17.25

Taysom Hill didn't embarrass himself in Week 14, finishing 13th in EPA per play and 18th in CPOE. But of course, he was playing the Jets. This week, he gets a much more difficult matchup with the Buccaneers.

Despite being a major pass funnel, the Buccaneers are not an easy matchup for opposing quarterbacks. The Buccaneers rank 19th in EPA allowed per dropback, 22nd in pass-rush grade, and third in coverage grade. 

Despite their mediocre pass-rush grade, the Buccaneers are generating pressure at the fourth-highest rate in the league. This is largely because they're very willing to blitz, ranking second to only the Dolphins in blitz rate. Unfortunately, Taysom Hill is not well suited to handle this blitz-heavy pressure. He ranks 41st (dead last) in passer rating under pressure and 41st in passer rating against the blitz.  

On the other hand, from a fantasy perspective, this matchup is somewhat exciting due to a potential for increased volume. The Saints rank 28th with a -5% pass rate over expected, but Buccaneers opponents are shifting 10% to the pass. 

When the Saints played the Buccaneers in Week 8, they shifted heavily to the pass, posting a 4% PROE. Jameis Winston was at quarterback, of course, but the Saints were extremely run-heavy with Winston as well. The fact that they responded to the Buccaneers' defense pass funnel once is a good sign for some additional pass attempts this week.

Pass attempts are good for Taysom Hill's fantasy value, but it's tough to bet on any specific Saints wide receivers. If Deonte Harris wasn't suspended, I'd tout him. But Marquez Callaway and Tre'Quan Smith have 1.23 and 1.12 YPRR and are showdown-only options.

Nick Vannett is mildly interesting, though. He had a 75% route rate against the Jets and has 2.16 YPRR this season. Vannett is running super hot with ha 11.2 YPT, but his 19% target rate is actually quite good for a tight end.

The Buccaneers are a huge pass funnel, but their run defense doesn't look all that imposing. They rank second in EPA allowed per rush but have had a very easy schedule, which helps explain their 19th ranking in run defense grade.

Alvin Kamara posted a career-high in carries against the Jets. He now leads the league with 21.2 expected points per game. With Mark Ingram is back, Kamara won't be anywhere near his 27 carries from Week 14. But Kamara is clearly back to full health and is an RB1 here with the potential for a high volume receiving day. 

Buccaneers Implied Team Total (from PointsBet): 28.25

Tom Brady went up against a difficult Bills defense in Week 14 and finished fifth in EPA per play and ninth in CPOE. He ranks fourth in EPA per play and ninth in CPOE this season and looks well-positioned for another strong week.

The Saints rank 10th in coverage grade and seventh in EPA per dropback. They're a solid unit. But the Saints can't generate pressure. They rank 31st in pass-rush grade and 25th in pressure rate. When kept clean, Brady ranks eighth in passer rating. He looks likely to be kept clean at a high rate this week. In fact, when Brady played the Saints in Week 8, he was kept clean on 84% of his dropbacks, the second-highest rate of the week.

If Brady can operate from a clean pocket, he can again support multiple fantasy weapons within the Buccaneers' high-volume passing attack. The

Buccaneers' 10% PROE is tied with the Chiefs for the highest in the league. The Buccaneers also play fast, ranking second in situation-neutral pace. And the fact that they push their opponents to the pass gives their games plenty of volume.

Clean pocket Brady could mean some additional deep shots this week. The Buccaneers may not need a ton of passing volume to put away the Saints as 11 point favorites. With that in mind, and with time for Brady to throw, betting on big plays is an appealing way to play the Buccaneers this week. That Makes Rob Gronkowski a very appealing receiving option. Gronkowski has a 24% target rate, besting Chris Godwin (21%) and Mike Evans (18%). He operates fairly deep downfield with a 10.6 aDOT that gives more per target upside than Godwin (7.7) and keeps him more consistently involved than Evans (13.5). Gronkowski has had route rates of 83%, 82%, and 82% over the last three games. He'll run fewer routes than the wide receivers but is clearly one of the best tight end plays of the week. 

The Saints have an elite run defense that ranks third in EPA allowed per rush and second in run defense grade. Leonard Fournette returned to practice Friday and looks set to resume his high volume workload against the Saints. Given the matchup and his health, he has more downside than usual. But Fournette has played 80%+ snaps in three straight games and is a locked-in RB1.

Raiders at Browns, 5 PM Eastern, Monday

Raiders Implied Team Total (from PointsBet): 21

Derek Carr is coming off a rough week against the Chiefs, where he finished 23rd in EPA per play and 20th in CPOE. However, Carr is still having a strong season. He ranks 10th in EPA per play and 12th in CPOE.

Carr's struggles against the Chiefs were primarily due to pressure. He was pressured on 45% of his dropbacks and took four sacks. However, he had a respectable 6.7 yards per attempt when pressured, so it wasn't a meltdown performance. It's also worth noting that Carr was charged with an interception that Foster Moreau appeared to control and then fumble; there was zero error on Carr's part.

Moreau's error is a symptom of a more significant concern for the Raiders. Carr is struggling to connect with his receivers. At least, he's struggling to connect with everyone but Hunter Renfrow.

Renfrow has an aDOT of just 6.2, which is very shallow. Yet, Renfrow has an elite 2.10 yards per route run. Among players with a 60%+ route rate and an aDOT below 8.0, Renfrow leads the league in YPRR. Chris Godwin (1.93) is the next closest. Renfrow is the engine of his team's offense, with a lower aDOT than Zach Ertz. Wild stuff.

Of course, Renfrow wouldn't be the Raiders' offensive engine if Darren Waller was available Monday; but he won't be. That leaves Foster Moreau in line to soak up Waller's routes once again. Moreau is delivering on that end, running a route on 86% of dropbacks against the Chiefs. But Moreau has an abysmal 0.84 YPRR. He's running a bit cold in yards per target and could have some positive regression on the way. But even if so, he has a very poor 12% target rate, so he can still regress positively and not be very good. Moreau looks like a tight end fill-in option at best.

Carr and company are now facing a Browns defense that is very strong on paper. The Browns ranked 11th in EPA allowed per dropback, sixth in pass-rush grade, and fifth in coverage grade. But the metrics don't know that the Browns are in the middle of a massive Covid outbreak that delayed this game. As a result, the Browns defense will likely be operating several notches below its standard grade, even if they get some players back from the Covid list.

If the Browns get enough players back to play near their usual form, they are perfectly positioned to reinforce the dynamic we've recently seen from the Raiders. They rank eight in pressure rate, but they get to the passer without blitzing, ranking just 27th in blitz rate. As a result, they've generated pressure without exposing themselves to big plays. The Browns are allowing 15+ yard passes at the fifth-lowest rate, and a full-strength Browns unit would likely force a considerable share of targets to Renfrow.

But if the Browns defense is, more realistically, not anywhere close to their usual quality, DeSean Jackson becomes an interesting option. Jackson saw his route rate jump up to 76% in Week 14, potentially a big deal. Jackson had been a part-time player with the Raiders, playing well behind Bryan Edwards. But Edwards saw his route rate drop to 65% against the Chiefs.

Jackson has 2.11 YPRR with the Raiders and had 3.51 YPRR in his stint with the Rams. He's a high-quality dart throw, as a bet that he gets a full complement of routes.

Josh Jacobs is a very intriguing option this week. Either he's facing a good Browns defense that forces check downs, or he's facing a decimated Browns defense that will be nowhere near usual quality (ninth in EPA allowed per rush and ninth in run defense grade).

Jacobs has played 70%+ snaps in back-to-back weeks and has had a 24%+ target share twice in his last four games. He looks like a locked-in RB1.

Browns Implied Team Total (from PointsBet): 17.5

With Nick Mullens still their most likely quarterback, the Browns will be intensely focused on getting their ground game going. The Raiders aren't bad against the run; they rank eighth in EPA allowed per rush and 18th in run defense grade. But teams are shifting 4% to the run against them. They're not quite a Chargers-level run funnel, but they're close.

Teams are likely attacking the Raiders heavily on the ground because they're looking to avoid their pass rush. They rank third in pass-rush grade and fifth in pressure rate.

The Browns are very likely to follow suit here. They rank 25th in pass rate over expected and 21st in situation-neutral pass rate. They're a decidedly run-first team... even when they're not on their third-string quarterback. 

With Kareem Hunt out, the Browns attack will center around Nick Chubb. In three games without Hunt, Chubb has snap rates of 56%, 56%, and 57%. He's averaging 17 carries in games with Hunt and 18 without him. He's averaging 2.0 targets with Hunt and 1.67 without him. So, surprisingly, Hunt has not made a huge difference in Chubb's workload. Although it's hard to believe that Chubb doesn't have more TD equity with Hunt out of the way. Still, D'Ernest Johnson should be mixed in fairly regularly between the 20s. Chubb will need Mullins to keep the offense moving or to hit some huge runs to deliver high-end value this week.

When Mullins drops back... he won't have much to work with. Jarvis Landry is on the Covid list, as is Austin Hooper, and Anthony Schwartz remains out with a concussion. That leaves Donovan Peoples-Jones, David Njoku, and Rashard Higgins as the Browns' main receiving options unless Landry or Hooper can return.

Njoku leads not just the group but the entire team with 1.95 YPRR. If Harrison Bryant is ruled out with his ankle injury, Njoku becomes an intriguing tight end punt play. 

Higgins could theoretically fill in for some Jarvis Landry snaps but has a 0.85 YPRR this season and isn't worth the risk. Peoples-Jones can get there in one play, but he has a 16.2 aDOT this year, and it could be a bit too much to ask for a backup to connect with him deep. 

Vikings at Bears, 8:15 PM Eastern, Monday

Vikings Implied Team Total (from PointsBet): 25.5

Kirk Cousins is having an impressive season; he ranks 10th in EPA per play and 14 in CPOE. And Cousins has been remarkably steady over the last six weeks, after some shaky performances in the first half of the season. 

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Cousins now faces a Bears defense that ranks 24th in EPA allowed per dropback, 21st in pass-rush grade, and 26th in coverage grade. They are a highly vulnerable pass defense.

At the same time, the Bears are even more vulnerable on the ground, ranking 26th in EPA allowed per rush and 26th in run defense grade. Their opponents have agreed that the ground game is the path of least resistance and are shifting 2% to the run.

The Vikings have a -2% pass rate over expected. They're not afraid to pass it. But if you give them a run funnel, they're going to take notice.

Dalvin Cook exploded against the Steelers run-funnel, delivering 15 points over expected on an elite 20.2 expected points workload. He now ranks seventh in success/attempt, first in breakaway percentage, and 19th in elusive rating. Cook ranks just RB39 in YPRR, but he's certainly capable of ripping off big plays after the catch, just as he is on rushing plays. He's arguably the best running back play of the week. 

Justin Jefferson is the engine of the Vikings' passing attack. He leads the league in air yard share and is second to only Davante Adams in WOPR. Jefferson has an ultra-elite 2.67 YPRR that is very close to being in line with his target profile. He'll probably regress a little bit, but his 26% target rate is elite for his 12.9 aDOT. He's matchup proof... and this is actually a good matchup.

Bears Implied Team Total (from PointsBet): 19

Justin Fields ranks 29th in EPA per play and 30th in CPOE, but he's starting to turn into a legitimate fantasy asset. Fields ranks third in scramble yards this season, so he's getting it done as a rusher... when he has the chance. Fields is still being underutilized as a rusher, though. He has a total of just 60 designed yards this season, which ranks behind Deebo Samuel, Jamal Agnew, Tyreek Hill, Kendrick Bourne, CeeDee Lamb, and Rondale Moore. He has just four more designed rushing yards than Trey Lance despite playing 182 more snaps.

If there was ever a week to unleash Fields on the ground, it would be against a Vikings defense that ranks 32nd in EPA allowed per rush.

The Vikings are better in pass defense, ranking eighth in EPA allowed per dropback, 13th in pass-rush grade, and 17th in coverage grade. It's possible that Fields could have a nice day anyway. Fields ranks second to only Russell Wilson in deep ball rate, and he ranks a respectable 14th in adjusted completion percentage on deep throws. The Vikings are vulnerable downfield, allowing 15+ yard passes at the third-highest rate. 

If Fields can get the deep ball going, Darnell Mooney will be the primary beneficiary.

Mooney has emerged as the Bears WR1 this year, with 1.69 YPRR. Given how bad the passing offense has been, Mooney's efficiency is very impressive. With Allen Robinson out this week, he should soak up additional target share. And with his 12.5 aDOT, he should see a fair amount of those targets deep downfield, where the Vikings are weakest.

The Vikings run defense is ranked last in EPA allowed per rush, but they've had a difficult schedule. They rank 17th in run defense grade, which is probably a better indication of the true quality of their run defense. Nonetheless, teams have been attacking the Vikings on the ground, shifting 2% to the run against them. The Bears have a -2% PROE and are likely to build their game plan around the run.

David Montgomery has played on 70%+ of snaps in five straight games and has been at 84%+in four of his last five. He has handled 82% of backfield attempts over that span. If the Bears can keep this game close as 6.5 point underdogs, Montgomery can deliver RB1 value as a true workhorse running back.

Washington at Eagles, 7 PM Eastern, Tuesday

Washington Implied Team Total (from PointsBet): 17.5

The wheels fell off for Taylor Heinicke in Week 14; he finished last on the week in EPA per play and CPOE. Only Davis Mills, in his dreadful performance against the Bills, has had a more inaccurate performance than Heinicke did against the Cowboys. Now the wheels have fallen off for Washington. Heinicke and Kyle Allen are both on the Covid list, and may not clear in time for Tuesday, which could leave Washington Football Team starting Garrett Gilbert, who they signed... I'm not kidding... Friday.

Washington is facing a solid but beatable Eagles defense. The Eagles rank 20th in EPA allowed per dropback and 19th in coverage grade. The Eagles have a solid pass rush, ranking fifth in pass-rush grade. But the Eagles rarely blitz, ranking 31st in blitz rate, and they've only generated pressure at just the 28th highest rate. Washington's Quarterback has at least a shot of avoiding disaster. 

Of course, Washington is likely to lean on the ground game as much as possible. At one point, Washington looked like a pass-first team, but they have had a tilt to the run in four straight weeks and now have a -2% PROE this season.

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The Eagles have a solid run defense that ranks 15th in EPA allowed per rush and 19th in run defense grade. Washington should be able to find at least some success with a run-first approach.

Until Week 15 hit, Week 14 looked like a worst-case scenario for Antonio Gibson. Not only was Heinicke so bad that the offense collapsed, but when the offense finally started to move the ball, Washington had removed Gibson for a fumble. Gibson wasn't efficient, leaving 1.7 points on the field. But the far bigger problem is that he had an expected points workload of just 7.8 points, which ranked RB35 on the week.

Gibson is set up for more tragedy against the Eagles. In an ideal world, he would be set up for a high-end RB2. But with the passing offense likely to be a disaster, Gibson may be phased out or pulled out of a blowout script. The delay also gives J.D. McKissic additional time to clear the concussion protocol, which would be a bit hit to Gibson's value.

Even if Washington gets a quarterback back, Washington may not have any receiving weapons this week. Terry McLaurin is recovering from a concussion, and Ricky Seals-Jones is splitting snaps with John Bates. The closest we have to a reliable option is DeAndre Carter, who has a 1.22 YPRR and has a shot at running a full slate of routes. I'll pass.

Eagles Implied Team Total (from PointsBet): 25.5

Washington has made a clear shift to the run, but the Eagles have undergone a true shift in identity. Philadelphia has had a pass rate over expected of -13% or lower seven straight games.

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The Eagles are now tied with the Saints and Patriots for 28th in PROE. They are on pace to finish the season as the most run-heavy team in the league. 

The Eagles haven't been pass-first since playing the Buccaneers pass-funnel defense back in Week 6. This week they get Washington for the first time... and Washington is the second biggest pass funnel in the league. But Washington isn't really in the same ballpark as the Buccaneers. Teams are shifting 10% to the pass against the Buccaneers, but just 3% to the pass against Washington. So we could see the Eagles closer to balanced this week, but I fully expect them to have limited passing volume. And they'll likely be able to attack a diminished Washington defense however they want.

Jalen Hurts looks likely to return from his ankle injury. He looks well-positioned for a big week, if healthy enough to take advantage.

Hurts ranks just 27th in EPA per play and 29th in CPOE. His fantasy value is normally highly dependent on his rushing ability. But with Washington's personnel issues, he could be more efficient through the air than we're used to.

DeVonta Smith has swung back and forth this season. He's had some hot streaks but has also run cold at times. We're in a cold streak, with just 37 total yards over his last two games and his last TD back in Week 10. But he's a deep threat on a low-volume passing offense. This is to be expected. Given Washington's many missing players on defense, it could be a spike week for the rookie.

Dallas Goedert leads the Eagles with 2.11 YPRR, but he's running extremely hot with an 11.2 YPT. Goedert's tight end eligibility keeps him in play, but his recent production likely overstates his upside here... unless the Eagles decide to air it out against their depleted opponents. 

Before the Eagles' bye, Kenneth Gainwell made a reappearance, handling 38% of snaps and 33% of backfield attempts. Boston Scott was dealing with an injury but logged 4% of snaps. It's possible he was being punished for a very costly penalty against the Giants. If so, he could see his role grow this week. Meanwhile, Jordan Howard is practicing again and could be activated from injured reserve. So Miles Sanders looks like a risky play in a crowded backfield. Nevertheless, Sanders will undoubtedly operate as the lead back and looks like a mid-low RB2.

Seahawks at Rams, 7 PM Eastern, Tuesday

Seahawks Implied Team Total (from PointsBet): 19.75

Russell Wilson was excellent against the Texans, finishing fourth in EPA per play, delivering his most efficient performance this season.

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Wilson's accuracy wasn't up to his usual standards, however. He finished 12th in CPOE. But Wilson's accuracy was excellent in Week 13, and given his highly efficient play against the Texans, we can assume that he is fully over his mallet finger injury.

Wilson will need to be at full health this week, facing a difficult Rams defense and likely being pushed to throw by a high-scoring Rams offense. The Rams rank 10th in EPA allowed per dropback, first in pass-rush grade, and 15th in coverage grade.

Wilson will also likely be without Tyler Lockett (Covid), who leads the team with 2.46 YPRR. DK Metcalf, D'Wayne Eskridge, and Freddie Swain have all missed practice this week but appear likely to play. Metcalf, in particular, will be critical for Wilson to have out there. Metcalf has a strong 1.95 YPRR, and he has an elite 23% target rate for his 13.2 aDOT. Unfortunately, he's running cold with an 8.5 YPT. But if he's clicking with Wilson, he could be in for a huge day. 

Swain and Eskridge have 0.74 and 0.94 YPRRs. They're in the mix as desperation plays, but both are very thin. 

The Rams are also good against the run, ranking 11th in EPA allowed per rush and first in run defense grade. As 6.5 point underdogs, the Seahawks are unlikely to be in a position to implement a run-heavy game plan, but even if they were, it probably wouldn't go great.

Rashaad Penny logged 57% of snaps and 64% of backfield attempts against the Texans and looks like the Seahawks' clear early-down runner moving forward. However, Penny had just a 43% route rate and has a low floor if the Seahawks are forced into a pass-heavy script. But Penny may be able to deliver a big game on limited opportunity; among running backs with 40+ attempts, he leads the league in breakaway percentage. Penny looks like an RB2 option as a bet on talent.

Rams Implied Team Total (from PointsBet): 25.75

Matthew Stafford was excellent against the Cardinals, finishing second in EPA per play and fifth in CPOE. Stafford has struggled with accuracy at times this season. Despite leading the league in EPA per play, he ranks 20th in CPOE. 

This discrepancy makes Stafford a bit harder to trust. As he showed against the 49ers, Packers, and in his first matchup with the Cardinals, he can have poor outings. And as he showed against the Titans, he's also capable of melting down. But Stafford is also more than capable of pairing strong efficiency with high volume.

The Seahawks rank 18th in EPA allowed per dropback, 30th in pass-rush grade, and 28th in coverage grade. It shouldn't be surprising that they are a pass funnel, with teams shifting 2% to the pass against them.

The Rams rank fourth with a 5% pass rate over expected and will have no problem with a pass-heavy game plan—as was the case in Week 5 when the Rams had an 8% PROE against the Seahawks. Stafford has a very high ceiling this week, with the potential for elite efficiency and high-end passing volume. If he can manage to get Wilson throwing on the other side and positive Covid tests stop rolling in, this could be a fun one.

Cooper Kupp leads the NFL with 3.08 YPRR. With Odell Beckham likely out this week, the Rams will be leaning on him as much as ever. Considering that he's had routes rates of 100% in each of his last two games and target rates of 28% and 45%, a bigger role for Kupp is honestly a little scary to think about. Kupp has a monster ceiling this week.

Over the last two weeks, Van Jefferson has had 90% and 91% route rates, and he will be locked into a full-time role if Beckham is out. Jefferson has a 13.8 aDOT and will be operating in his usual deep threat role. With a 1.56 YPRR, he's a viable option.

With Beckham potentially out... let's talk about Bennett Skowronek. Skowronek had a 73% route rate in Week 10, the first game after Robert Woods' injury and Beckham's first week with the team. He bricked hard with a 1-for-9 line. But Skowronek has an 18% target rate this year, which is very good for his 12.3 aDOT. He looks like an intriguing short slate DFS option.

If Beckham can clear Covid protocols, he looks like the secondary receiving option. He has a 1.58 YPRR, which is barely ahead of Jefferson. But Beckham has a very impressive 21% target rate, while Jefferson has a mediocre 16%. Beckham hasn't fully synced up with Stafford yet, but with a deep 14.2 aDOT, he has a lot of upside if they get on the same page. 

The Seahawks are better set up to defend the run than the pass, ranking 10th in EPA allowed per rush and fourth in run defense grade. The matchup will likely reinforce the Rams' desire to attack through the air and will make TDs the main path to the upside in the backfield.

With Darrell Henderson potentially out for another game, Sony Michel shapes up as a very strong play. Michel handled 100% of backfield attempts against the Cardinals and has handled 98% of backfield attempts over the last two weeks. Michel has been slightly better than Darrell Henderson this year in the rushing metrics, and he may operate as a clear lead back even if Henderson returns. If Henderson is out, Michel's TD equity puts him in the RB1 mix. 

Sources

To write this article I relied on the following stats, metrics and grades.  

  • Implied Team Totals are calculated using the lines at PointsBet.
  • 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.
  • Completion Percentage Over Expected
    • QB accuracy metric
      • Data from rbsdm.com 
        • All CPOE referenced in this article has garbage time filtered out.
          • I do this by setting win probability filter to between 10-90%.
  • 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
  • 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
  • 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
  • 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
  • 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 
  • 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.
  • A number of other PFF stats including Time to Throw, Play Action Rate, Pressure Rate, Screen Passes and Defensive Grades.