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We want to know -- we need to know -- how defenses are being attacked.
Though it won't translate perfectly from week to week, understanding which NFL defenses qualify as run funnels and which are pass funnels can and should change the way we create our daily fantasy lineups. Is a team's stalwart run defense forcing opponents to the air at a remarkable rate? How about secondaries so dominant (or teams so bad) that opposing offenses are turning to the run more often than usual?
In this space, I'll highlight which players may benefit from squaring off against a run funnel or pass funnel defense in a given week, along with run-back options on the opposing team.
Analyzing pass and run funnel defenses can often generate DFS stacking ideas, both team stacks and game stacks. I'll highlight stacking plays -- for DFS tournament purposes -- where I see fit. I've found evaluating run and pass funnels is an excellent starting point for exploiting matchups and crafting correlated lineups. A tightly correlated DFS roster means you have to get less right, a welcoming prospect in a wildly difficult game.
Lions (-0.5) vs. Jaguars
Lions implied total: 25.75
Jaguars implied total: 25.25
All the cool kids, leaning against their lockers, imbued with a cool detachment that can't be taught, looking disheveled yet utterly stylish, are stacking the Lions-Jaguars game. Because, you see, the cool kids don't overthink it. The cool kids see a stackable game and they stack it, bro. It doesn't have to be difficult, bro.
But you, like me, are interested in hunkering down around the geeks lunch table and figuring out how to get at least a little different in stacking this matchup. The cool kids will undoubtedly look to Trevor Lawrence as the quarterback to deploy here. Us overthinkers -- us GPP brains -- say no. We will never take the easy points. We like to work for our point. Therefore we're starting this stack with Jared Goff.
As my NBC Sports Edge colleague and favorite zoomer Kyle Dvorchyk wrote this week, only six quarterbacks have a higher expected points added (EPA) per drop back than Goff since Week 8, when Amon-Ra St. Brown returned to the Detroit lineup. Goff since Week 8 is 12th among all QBs in success rate. His accuracy is still lacking -- Goff is 27th in completion rate over expected over the past five games -- but Goff is delivering for fantasy purposes.
Against a deteriorating Jacksonville coverage unit graded by Pro Football Focus as the league's third worst, Goff certainly has a ceiling. This is where I tell you the Jaguars defense is the eighth most extreme pass funnel this year, and allow the league's ninth highest rate of long pass plays through 12 weeks.
The normie brain would tell you to stack Goff with St. Brown. And well, you probably should. There's vanishingly few scenarios in which Goff goes off without ARSB putting up a silly stat line.
A Goff double stack is what we're going for though. Enter D.J. Chark and D'Andre Swift. Maybe you've heard of them. Chark, who in Week 12 ran a route on 80 percent of Goff's drop backs and caught two of five targets for 16 yards and a touchdown, remains the team's best downfield threat. He had the second most air yards for Detroit in Week 12's loss to Buffalo, seeing a team-leading 16 air yards per target. If Goff is going to hit a deep shot (or two) against the Jaguars, Chark is likely going to be the recipient (against his former team). Nearly 40 percent of Chark's targets from Week 1-3 -- before his ankle injury -- were more than 20 yards downfield. He accounted for a cool 35 percent of Detroit's air yards in the season's first few weeks.
Swift, meanwhile, is off the injury report for the first time since his tenth grade season. Finally seeing his playing time ramp up in Week 12, Swift saw eight targets from Goff and totaled three green zone (inside the 10) touches. He also converted a two-point conversion against the Bills. This could be a strong signal that the Lions are ready to deploy Swift --15th among all running backs in yards per route run -- as the weapon he is. Stacking the pass-catching dynamo with Goff makes sense -- almost too much sense. The Jaguars, by the bye, are giving up the fifth most running back receptions through Week 12.
The normies and cool kids are going to flock to Zay Jones this week after his blowup Week 12 performance against Baltimore. It makes some sense -- Jones could overtake Christian Kirk for the team target share lead before season's end, and his Week 13 DFS price point is far lower than Kirk's. We're trying to get weird though, and Jones' likely high Week 13 DFS rostership will make him decidedly not weird. That's why the overthinkers, thinking more than ever, are rolling with Christian Kirk as the run-back option alongside Goff and his pass catchers.
Kirk leads the Jaguars in both target share and air yards share. He's ninth among all wideouts in targets per route run (28 percent) since Week 9. While things have been a bit up and down for Kirk in the season's second half, he's still seen at least nine targets in four of his past five outings. Kirk is (almost) a mortal lock for double digit targets if this game goes back and forth. Slot receivers have roasted Detroit's defense for much of the past two months. The Lions have given up 19 catches for 256 yards and a score to slot guys over the past two weeks. Kirk, meanwhile, will have a fraction of Jones' rostership this week.
Evan Engram shapes up as a truly sicko galaxy brain stacking option. He's running all the routes in the Jacksonville offense (and being targeted on a dismal 15 percent of those routes). A back-and-forth affair could generate a few more targets for down-bad Engram. Detroit allows the third highest touchdown rate to tight ends, things of that nature.
Detroit is neither a pass nor run funnel. Teams do what they want against Dan Campbell's terrible defense. The Jags have leaned into the run with positive game script, which could create a bunch of carries for whoever gets the starting backfield gig for Jacksonville in Week 13. JaMycal Hasty would be my favorite to get RB1 duties if Travis Etienne (foot) is sidelined. Whoever it is will face a Detroit defense allowing the highest rate of positive rush attempts this season and the third highest rate of broken tackles against running backs.
Game Stack Ideas
Goff, St. Brown, Swift, Kirk
Goff, St. Brown, Chark, Kirk, Engram or RB
St. Brown and Kirk
Lawrence, Kirk, Engram, St. Brown or Chark
Texans (+7) vs. Browns
Browns implied total: 27.25
Texans implied total: 20.25
Deshaun Watson's soul-sickening return to the NFL may overshadow this game's steadily increasing Vegas total. The Browns-Texans tilt -- featuring two of the most porous defenses in the league -- has risen by 3.5 points since Monday. This game could accidentally turn into a shootout.
This game should be easy to stack if we follow the funnel. The Browns, allowing the eighth highest rate of positive rush plays, are the NFL's seventh most extreme run funnel defense. The Texans -- horrible against the run by every measure -- are the second most extreme run funnel. This matchup practically begs each team to establish it to their heart's content.
Obviously this means a big workload for Nick Chubb, who has taken over as the team's runaway RB1 in recent weeks. Chubb has 56 expected fantasy points over the Browns' past four games to 26 expected points for Kareem Hunt, who has a meager eight targets over that four-game span. It's Chubb's backfield, and he has a real chance to go ballistic against a Houston defense allowing the highest rate of broken tackles and the worst EPA per rush this year. Cleveland, as you may know, is bottom five in pass rate over expected.
Chubb is going to be chalky, I know. I think there are times we should consider eating good GPP chalk, especially when it's running back chalk. Rostering Chubb and getting weird elsewhere in your DFS tournament lineups can create that sort of differentiation you need to rocket toward the top of the standings. I fear Chubb's Week 13 upside against Houston is the kind we can't overcome with galaxy brain options.
Nico Collins and Dameon Pierce profile as the Texans' run-back options alongside Chubb (and maybe one Cleveland pass catcher against a Houston secondary allowing the sixth highest EPA per drop back).
Pierce's recent struggles -- he has 16 yards on 15 rushes over the past two weeks -- should put his DFS rostership somewhere around zero percent. Such a depressed rostership for Pierce would come just in time for the rookie's matchup against a beatable Browns front seven allowing the NFL's highest rush EPA -- by a wide margin. Cleveland has given up myriad big plays on the ground in 2022, evidenced by their league-high rate of “boom” rushing plays allowed (carries that result in an EPA of at least one). We know Lovie Smith and the Texans will do anything and everything to get Pierce going; it's their only chance to speed up the game against a vastly superior offense.
Collins has quietly become the Texans' top receiver. I'm not sure how it happened, but it did. Collins over the team's past three games has 17 more expected fantasy points than Brandin Cooks thanks to a 24-17 percent target share lead over Houston's former WR1. Cooks has been the more efficient wideout -- his yards per route run is higher than Collins' -- but it's Collins who is running all the routes and commanding more intermediate targets. Cooks has a 9.8 air yards per target over the past three outings while Collins' air yards per target sits at 6.2. Collins is getting the easier stuff.
I suppose this means Cooks is a contrarian DFS tournament option who will have a fraction of Collins' rostership, though I don't expect Collins to be anything resembling chalky in Week 13.
Game Stack Ideas
Chubb, Cooper, Pierce
Chubb, Collins or Pierce
Chubb, Collins or Cooks, Pierce