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Walkthrough Week 15: The Big Dog Charges Forward

Derrick Henry

Derrick Henry

George Walker IV / Tennessean.com / USA TODAY NETWORK

Welcome to the Week 15 Walkthrough, outlining critical fantasy football context for this 15th, 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

Byes: None

Already Played: 49ers, Seahawks

Colts at Vikings, 1 PM Eastern, Saturday

Colts Implied Team Total: 21.75

Matt Ryan has been bad enough this season that he’s at risk of being benched by two different coaching staffs. But it’s worth remembering that while Ryan has definitely struggled this year, he’s been far better than Sam Ehlinger.

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15_colts_epa.png

After getting embarrassed by the Cowboys, Ryan has a chance to redeem himself against a much weaker Vikings pass defense that he’s had two weeks to prepare for. The Vikings aren’t terrible against the pass, but they can definitely be thrown on. They rank 23rd in EPA allowed per dropback and 23rd in dropback success rate.

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15_colts_mu.png

The Vikings are also stronger against the run than the pass, which has turned them into a pass funnel. Only the Cardinals, Dolphins, Titans, and 49ers rate as bigger pass funnels than the Vikings. This could help Colts pass catchers, given that Indianapolis has been run-heavy since Jeff Saturday took over in Week 10.

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15_colts_proe_trend.png

With improved efficiency and the potential for more passing volume, Michael Pittman looks like a solid bet. Because there’s one thing we know for sure about the Colts this week: Michael Pittman will run a ton of routes. With four straight games of 100% route participation, Pittman has not missed a single route since Saturday took over the team. Pittman is coming off a very poor outing against the Cowboys, where he had just a 13% target share and a 14% air yard share. But he leads the Colts in both metrics this season, at 25% and 28%. His per-route volume isn’t ideal, but at least routes aren’t a question.

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15_colts_yprr.png

Alec Pierce looks interesting as a secondary Colts receiver. With 74% and 75% route rates over the last two weeks, he’ll likely run fewer routes than Parris Campbell. However, Pierce has the same target rate as Campbell (18%) over the last four games. With a downfield aDOT of 12.8, Pierce’s targets are significantly more valuable than Campbell’s—because the slot receiver is an underneath option with a 5.9 aDOT. On the other hand, Pierce has been the Colts’ deep threat this season and could deliver some splash plays if the Colts’ passing game is functional this week.

At tight end, the Colts returned to a split in Week 13 with Kylen Granson leading the way. Granson had 55% route participation, with Jelani Woods at just 28%. The Colts seem interested in getting the tight end position involved, with Granson and Woods combining for nine first-read targets. However, both tight ends are nothing, but short-slate TD dart throws, given the lack of route commitment. Woods does at least offer some upside that his reduced playing time was health-related. He hasn’t been on the injury report coming out of the Colts’ bye week.

This isn’t an ideal matchup for Jonathan Taylor, but even if the Colts are less committed to the run this week than usual, they are still likely to be run first. Taylor will get his opportunities.

Taylor has not been efficient this season but hasn’t been bad. He ranks RB17 in NFL Next Gen’s rush yards over expected per attempt and RB19 in success rate. Those are disappointing rankings for a player of his talent level, but Taylor should be healthier this week, coming off bye. Ranking RB6 in expected points per game, and RB2 in route participation, he should be heavily involved regardless of the game script. He’s still a clear-cut RB1.

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15_colts_taylor.png

Vikings Implied Team Total: 25.75

The Vikings have been a pass-first team this season, with a 3% PROE that is the eighth-highest in the league. But the Vikings have posted a PROE of 0% or below in 5-of-8 games this season. Granted, the Vikings have never really gone run-heavy, but they are open to shifting to a more balanced approach.

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15_vikings_proe_trend.png

Their philosophy is relevant this week because they face a Colts defense that has been a run funnel. The Colts are a solid defense, but they’ve been more efficient at stopping the pass than the run, ranking 12th in EPA allowed per dropback and 16th in EPA allowed per rush.

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15_vikings_mu.png

However, even against a middling run defense, the Vikings could struggle to run the ball. The Vikings could not get the run game going against a bad Lions defense last week, ranking dead last in EPA per rush.

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15_vikings_off_epa_w.png

Against the Lions, the Vikings were far more successful when leaning on the pass. Kirk Cousins posted the highest EPA per play of Week 14.

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15_vikings_epa.png

Cousins hasn’t been great this season, but he’s been a solid facilitator in the mold of Ryan Tannehill or (somehow) Andy Dalton. The Vikings will likely be balanced this week, but with a ground game that ranks just 24th in EPA per rush, they shouldn’t get too far away from leaning on Cousins to drive the offense.

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15_vikings_epa_per_game.png

Although, it isn’t Cousins who is driving this passing game so much as Justin Jefferson. After exploding for 223 yards against the Lions, only Tyreek Hill has a higher YPRR than Jefferson. His profile is immaculate.

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15_vikings_jefferson.png

Jefferson is also the only Vikings receiver who is outperforming his target opportunity. This creates the opportunity to bet on positive regression for Adam Thielen and T.J. Hockenson, who both see decent per-route volume.

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15_vikings_yprr.png

Of the two, Hockenson looks like the stronger bet, and not just because he has tight end eligibility. Since joining the Vikings, Hockenson has a 1.61 expected YPRR, beating out Thielen (1.49). And Thielen is barely running more routes. Hockenson has had 92% and 91% route rates over his last two games. Those would be elite rates for a wide receiver; Thielen has run just four more routes than the tight end. With Hockenson running routes at the rate of a full-time wide receiver, he looks like a borderline elite tight end.

Even in a run funnel matchup, it’s hard to get excited about Dalvin Cook. His volume could be solid, but given how poorly Cook has run the ball, efficiency doesn’t look particularly likely. Only James Robinson, Darrell Henderson, Clyde Edwards-Helaire, Kenneth Walker, and D’Andre Swift have had lower success rates this season. And the issue for Cook is that, unlike Swift and Walker, he is also struggling to generate explosive plays. He ranks just RB36 in NFL Next Gen’s RYOE / attempt and RB40 in YPRR.

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Cook hasn’t been a complete disaster. He’s been a solid tackle-breaker and has managed to compile some breakaway yards on the fourth-highest team attempts share in the league. He just hasn’t been an efficient big-play generator on a per-touch basis. In a matchup that could generate some additional volume for him, Cook profiles as a high-end RB2. But the Vikings will likely put up more points if they take to the air.

Ravens at Browns, 4:30 PM Eastern, Saturday

Ravens Implied Team Total: 17.5

Tyler Huntley will be able to suit up this week, but nevertheless, the Ravens should be firmly run first against a Browns defense that ranks dead last in EPA allowed per rush.

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15_ravens_mu.png

The Ravens have a -2% PROE this season with a 4% PROE on 1st-and-10, so it would be fair to call them a balanced team. However, this is a bit misleading. The Ravens have often operated in game scripts that allow for a lot of rushing attempts. They don’t look overly run-heavy from the lens of PROE because their expected pass rate has been low.

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15_ravens_epr.png

With Huntley at quarterback and a weak run defense on tap, we can count on them to shift the run. That could look like a balanced game plan if the Browns are also run-heavy or trailing; it could also look like a run-heavy game plan if the Browns take to the air and control the game. However, the point remains—we should see plenty of carries from the Ravens this week.

The Ravens’ running game received a big boost last week from the return of J.K. Dobbins. Dobbins finished second to only Christian McCaffrey in NFL Next Gen’s RYOE / attempt, and he was a reliable rusher, ranking RB11 in success rate. The Ravens also got a strong contribution from Gus Edwards, who finished fourth in success rate and ninth in RYOE / attempt. However, Week 14’s usage was not an ideal setup for fantasy production. Dobbins led the way but with a 43% snap share far below a reliable level. Edwards mixed in for 34% of snaps, with Kenyan Drake at 18% and Justice Hill at 3%. Drake’s snaps may fall off, given how well Dobbins and Edwards ran last week. That would be a major boost to the fantasy viability of the top two backs, particularly Dobbins who should lead the way in snaps once again. Dobbins requires a leap of faith as an RB2 here, but the matchup offers upside for a very efficient outing.

In the receiving game, only Mark Andrew holds any real interest for fantasy in this matchup. Andrews is coming off a disappointing game, in which he had just two receptions for 17 receiving yards on four targets. However, he ran a route on 96% of dropbacks and had a surprisingly high 27% target share. His issues last week were simply a symptom of a failed passing offense. He remains an elite play; he just needs the Ravens to get something going through the air.

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Andrews was the only Ravens receiver with 75%+ route participation against the Steelers. Demarcus Robinson is functionally the No. 1 receiver on the Ravens right now, which I only mention for Saturday slate purposes.

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15_ravens_yppr.png

Browns Implied Team Total: 20.5

Deshaun Watson struggled in his second game of 2022, finishing just 19th in EPA per play. We still have a very small sample on a clearly rusty Watson, but what he has shown so far has not been encouraging. In moving from Jacoby Brissett to Watson, the Browns have replaced a quarterback with efficiency similar to Ryan Tannehill‘s with one whose play has looked a lot like Carson Wentz‘s.

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15_browns_epa_watson.png

But after going extremely run-heavy against the Texans in Week 13, the Browns showed more confidence in Watson in his second game. They posted a -2% PROE and a 2% PROE on 1st-and-10. They didn’t feature Watson against the Bengals, but they weren’t hiding him, either.

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At some point, we can expect the Browns to open things up a bit more for Watson. And we could see a step in that direction against a Ravens defense that is far stronger against the run than the pass.

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From a fantasy perspective, David Njoku is the best bet in the Browns’ passing game. The tight end could obviously turn in a dud this week, but that’s a major risk with every tight end outside of Travis Kelce and a major risk for every other Browns receiver. But Njoku offers quite a bit of upside for a tight end. He ran a route on 90% of dropbacks against the Bengals, a rare rate for a tight end. In addition, Njoku’s per-route volume has been just a tick lower than Donovan People-Jones’. With the potential to run nearly as many routes, Njoku is a better bet at a harder-to-fill position.

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15_browns_yprr.png

But for two straight weeks, Peoples-Jones has produced more receiving yards than Amari Cooper. This looked like a fluke against the Texans. Cooper had a 43% target share in Week 13, with Peoples-Jones at just 14%. But Peoples-Jones ran a route on 100% of dropbacks against the Bengals and led the way with a 35% target share to Cooper’s 16%. And he was far more productive than Cooper, going 8-144 with Cooper at 2-42. Cooper’s role in the offense has been much stronger this year, but Peoples-Jones can’t be counted out to have a clear target lead once again this week. Who ends up being more productive will likely come down to how much the Ravens focus on taking away Cooper—he has been double-teamed at a much higher rate this season.

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Nick Chubb faces a somewhat difficult matchup this week, but he is coming off a 63% snap share which is tied for his highest of the season. 63% is barely even a clear-cut lead-back type of role... but the bar is low for Chubb, who is perennially stuck in a committee backfield. Even with a split workload and a somewhat difficult matchup ahead of him, Chubb is capable of a big week. He ranks RB4 in RYOE / attempt and leads the NFL in breakaway yards per game and elusive rating. He has an RB2 workload but is talented enough to be considered a low-end RB1.

Dolphins at Bills, 8:15 PM Eastern, Saturday

Dolphins Implied Team Total: 18.75

It’s been a difficult two-game stretch for Tua Tagovailoa, who ranks just 31st in EPA per play over the last two weeks. But Tagovailoa’s efficiency is less of a concern than the sudden drop off in his accuracy. Entering Week 13, Tagovailoa ranked second in completion percentage over expected, behind only Geno Smith. His accuracy was paying huge dividends, with a league-leading EPA per play.

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15_dolphins_epa_1.png

Things have shifted drastically over the last two weeks; Tagovailoa’s accuracy has deserted him. He ranks ahead of only Kyle Allen in CPOE.

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15_dolphins_epa_2.pngv

Tagovailoa is now going against a Bills defense that has been very impressive over the last two weeks, ranking fifth in EPA allowed per dropback and fifth in EPA allowed per rush. Granted, they’ve faced the Patriots and Jets offenses in that span, but Tagovailoa’s recent level of play will get him into trouble against this defense.

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15_dolphins_mu.png

The Dolphins’ game plan against the Chargers was also a red flag for Tua’s outlook this week. The Dolphins have been a pass-first team this season, and the Chargers are weak against the pass. Of course, they also can’t defend the run, but we’ve previously seen the Dolphins lean into the strength of their passing game, most notably against the Texans. However, against the Chargers, they posted a -2% PROE and were run heavy on first down with a -8% PROE. In other words, they operated as a firmly run-first team.

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15_dolphins_proe_w.png

If the Bills play to their potential in this game, passing volume shouldn’t be a concern. However, last week’s game plan creates some risk that the Dolphins won’t lean into a pass-heavy game environment. That risk is magnified by game conditions that could be windy and snowy. It could be another disappointing outing for Tagovailoa in terms of volume and efficiency.

Fortunately, this offense remains highly concentrated. Even while dealing with minor injuries that limited him to 76% route participation, Tyreek Hill led the Dolphins with a 42% target share and a 51% air yard share against the Chargers. His profile is unreal.

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15_dolphins_comp.png

Jaylen Waddle has had a very disappointing two-week stretch, but as you can see above, his profile remains very strong. Although his target opportunity isn’t in the same league as Hill’s, it’s hard to complain about an elite 2.09 expected YPRR. With improved health and non-disastrous accuracy from Tagovailoa, Waddle can get right here despite unideal conditions.

We could also see a more concentrated backfield with Jeff Wilson at risk of missing this game. Raheem Mostert has not been good this season, but the Dolphins leaned on him in a big way once Wilson was injured against the Chargers. Mostert turned in a 73% snap share, the highest mark from any Dolphins running back this season. Given that Mostert ranks ahead of only Darrell Henderson, Clyde Edwards-Helaire, Najee Harris, Cam Akers, and Melvin Gordon in RYOE / attempt, he’s not a good bet for an efficient outing. However, that might not matter if he gets treated as a workhorse running back and the Dolphins lean on the run in the snow. Mostert has logged a 69%+ snap share in four games this season. If Wilson is out, he should see plenty of work, making him a volume-based RB2.

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15_dolphins_mostert.png

Bills Implied Team Total: 25.75

I noted last week that the Bills had been flashing an alternate identity in recent weeks, one based around heavy personnel and a run-first approach. But the Bills were pretty darn Bills-y against the Jets. They ran 11 personnel (3WR) on 73% of their snaps, which is pretty typical for Buffalo. And they returned to a pass-first approach overall and on first down. Their Week 14 performance was standard for the 2022 Bills.

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15_bills_proe_w.png

In future matchups, or if weather conditions are out of hand this week, the Bills could shift to more power personnel. But there’s no doubt that their default approach remains a pass-heavy one. And this week, they get a Dolphins defense that has been a major pass funnel. Teams are averaging a 3% PROE against the Dolphins and are shifting 4% to the pass; only the Cardinals have been a bigger pass funnel this season. This effect is self-explanatory when considering how much weaker the Dolphins are against the pass than the run.

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15_bills_mu.png

The Dolphins have an impressive pass rush but are weak enough in coverage to make them very vulnerable to opposing passing games. And a poor secondary is obviously not a good weakness against Josh Allen. Allen ranks fifth in EPA per play, which is impressive. But he’s even more impressive when looking at EPA per game, in which he ranks behind only Patrick Mahomes and Jalen Hurts. And he trails only Mahomes in success rate.

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15_bills_epa_per_game.png

If you’re trying to bet on a quarterback to efficiently and accurately facilitate an offense, Allen is one of a handful of quarterbacks who can get the job done. But if you’re looking for a quarterback who can fully take advantage of a past funnel defense with an efficient outing on high volume, Allen is clearly the second-best bet after Mahomes.

Stefon Diggs has a nuclear ceiling if the Bills lean into this matchup. While Diggs is clearly the Bills leading receiver, he hasn’t been double-teamed at the rate of some of the NFL’s other premium receiving weapons. This is likely because the Bills have a deep enough group of receivers to keep defenses honest in their approach to covering Diggs. As a result, he should have no trouble earning valuable target volume this week. And if he does struggle to draw targets, it will likely mean that the Dolphins sold out to stop him—opening up more value than usual for the rest of the Bills’ receivers.

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15_bills_diggs.png

Outside of Diggs, Bills receivers have not had impressive per-route target volume. However, they run a lot of routes. Gabe Davis leads the team with a 94% route rate, and Dawson Knox has seen a ton of playing time over the last two weeks with route rates of 89% and 94%. His 1.02 expected YPRR is legitimately bad, but few tight ends see this much route volume, and only one tight end sees route volume in a Josh Allen offense.

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15_bills_yprr.png

This matchup should lock in a meaningful role for Isaiah McKenzie, who has occasionally seen his route participation fall off this year. As a slot receiver, his route rate will likely be capped at around 80%, but he’s also had 70%+ route participation in three straight weeks and looks like a very solid Saturday slate play.

After James Cook flashed in Week 13 against the Patriots, he had disappointing production against the Jets. Cook had just six rushing yards on four carries and one reception for nine yards on one target. However, Cook had a 41% snap share, only slightly lower than the 43% snap share he posted against the Patriots. This was only the second time he has had a snap share above 26% all season. Cook is legitimately a bigger part of the offense than he was at the start of the season.

Moreover, Nyheim Hines saw his snap share decline from 31% in Week 13 to just 17% last week. A reduced role from Hines should open up more receiving snaps for Cook. Devin Singletary has led in snap share in each of the last two weeks at 44% and 49%. But as the early down back in a matchup that should call for a lot of passing, Singletary will need to get in the end zone to pay off. Cook looks like an interesting PPR dart throw as a bet on underneath volume against a strong Dolphins pass rush. Cook has run only 83 routes this season, but he’s flashing elite efficiency. His 1.93 YPRR is just above Christian McCaffrey‘s 1.88.

Eagles at Bears, 1 PM Eastern, Sunday

Eagles Implied Team Total: 28.75

Jalen Hurts is having a shockingly good season. And of all the ways we could have imagined for Hurts to develop into a franchise quarterback, the path he took honestly seems like one of the least realistic.

Because while Hurts has been a deadly rusher this season, his passing has been even more impressive. Hurts ranks third in EPA per play, which is impressive enough. But... considered by many to be an erratic passer entering the season, Hurts has been stunningly accurate this season; only Geno Smith ranks higher in completion percentage over expected.

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15_eagles_epa.png

Hurts has played great this year, but he’s also been helped by the fact that he has two wide receivers who are getting open at a high rate. Tyler Lockett passed A.J. Brown this week in ESPN’s open score, but he still ranks second among 89 qualifying wide receivers. Brown finished first in the metric last year, and his ability to shed coverage makes Hurts’ job of completing downfield passes much easier. Brown also pairs the ability to get open with a fairly deep aDOT of 11.9. It’s one thing to beat your man underneath, but Brown is getting open downfield.

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15_eagles_comp.png

DeVonta Smith has a 9.8 aDOT, so he’s operating more shallowly. However, Smith is a bigger part of the screen game, with screens making up 15% of his targets compared to just 7% for Brown. On non-screen routes, they’re playing a similar role in the offense, with Smith having a 12.0 aDOT to Brown’s 13.0. And while Smith isn’t getting open at the same rate as Brown, he still ranks a very respectable WR20. Purely in terms of open score, Hurts is even better off than Tua Tagovailoa with his duo of Tyreek Hill (WR4) and Jaylen Waddle (WR30).

Hurts could also have Dallas Goedert back in the lineup, who has been even more efficient than Smith this season, with a very impressive 1.99 YPRR. If he returns, this matchup is so juicy that he is worth trusting. But he will hurt Smith’s outlook a bit. The second-year receiver’s targets have been much stronger with Goedert out of the lineup.

In four games without Dallas Goedert, no Eagles receiver has finished with a top-two target share in any week. In other words, in four straight games, Brown and Smith have finished 1-2 in target share. Interestingly, Smith has out-targeted Brown in 3-of-4 games. But as we’ve seen from his explosion games against the Steelers and Titans, Brown has a higher ceiling.

And this looks like a potential ceiling week for the Eagles’ passing game. I’ve been focusing primarily on two things in predicting how the Eagles will attack a defense.

  1. Does the defense have a clear path of least resistance?
  2. Does the defense generate quick pressure?

If the Eagles are facing a defense that is far more susceptible to the run than the pass, they have had no problem leaning into the matchup. But their default mode of attack is the downfield passing game, provided that they can protect Hurts. Because the Eagles’ Achilles heel on offense has been allowing quick pressure. They are an offensive juggernaut... outside of the fact that they are allowing quick pressures at the fifth-highest rate.

This matchup sets up the Eagles to be as pass-heavy as they want to be. The Bears are terrible against both the run and the pass, but their biggest weaknesses are in pass defense. They rank dead last in EPA allowed per dropback... and crucially, the Bears cannot get to the passer, ranking 32nd in PFF’s pass rush grades and 30th in quick pressure rate.

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The fact that the Eagles are a highly concentrated passing offense is a huge blessing for fantasy because they are rarely in situations that call for a heavy dose of passing attempts. In fact, the Eagles have had an expected pass rate of just 56%, the lowest in the NFL. They’ve been willing to pass more than expected, but their 55% pass rate still ranks 27th. The 49ers have a higher pass rate than the Eagles this year, we just aren’t feeling that because Philadelphia’s receiving volume is far more concentrated than San Francisco’s.

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This week, volume could be a problem if the 9-point favorites pull their starters. But for as long as the Eagles’ offense is on the field, it should be highly efficient and high scoring. Brown looks poised for another huge game, and Smith could show a new level of ceiling here.

Miles Sanders also has a high ceiling once against this week. Sanders has shown a nice mix of consistency and big-play ability this year. He ranks RB8 in success rate and RB13 in RYOE / attempt; he’s also RB12 in breakaway yards per game. Unfortunately, Sanders is a complete zero in the passing game, ranking RB47 in YPRR. But he has a high likelihood of helping to salt this game away and can generate some long runs in the process.

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15_eagles_sanders.png

Bears Implied Team Total: 19.75

The Bears have been very consistent about how they run their offense. Week in, week out, the Bears establish the run. But before their Week 14 bye, Chicago rolled out an interesting game plan against the Packers. They were still run heavy with a -6% PROE, but considering that the Bears have an NFL-low -15% PROE this season, that was borderline pass happy. Even more surprising, the Bears were extremely aggressive on first down, with a 23% PROE on 1st-and-10. That’s a level of first-down aggression that only the Bengals have topped, and only the Bengals, Seahawks, and Dolphins have matched. For as aggressive as the Chiefs and Bills have been about throwing the ball this year, neither have been as pass-first on first down as the Bears were against the Packers. This wasn’t just a slightly different gear for the Bears, it was a wild departure from what we had seen to start the season.

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Although the Bears lost the game, Justin Fields played very well in Week 13, finishing seventh in EPA per play and fourth in CPOE. Of course, Fields won’t always play this well every time the Bears prioritize the pass. But it’s a reminder that allowing a young quarterback to pass the ball in situations when the defense has to defend the run will generally yield better results than only relying on his arm in long down and distance situations.

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Fields is now up to 12th in EPA per play, and his team is showing signs that they are gaining faith in him. That’s an especially positive sign heading into a matchup with the Eagles, who have one of the strongest pass defenses in the entire league. The Eagles rank second in EPA allowed per dropback and third in dropback success rate. As a result, fields is likely to struggle with passing efficiency regardless of how the Bears call plays.

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But the Eagles aren’t the worst matchup for the Bears, overall. They rank just 25th in EPA allowed per rush and 29th in rushing success rate. And after an impressive showing in Week 13 against the Titans, the Eagles’ run defense was mediocre last week, finishing 15th in EPA allowed per rush. So they might not be quite as vulnerable as their season-long numbers suggest, but Fields has plenty of potential for some game-breaking runs this week. David Montgomery should also be able to help move the chains. This should keep Fields from seeing long down and distance passing situations at an overly high rate—particularly if the Bears are willing to test the Eagles’ pass defense on first down.

But with Darnell Mooney out for the season and Chase Claypool likely to miss this game, Cole Kmet looks like the only viable fantasy target in this difficult matchup.

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Cole Kmet‘s per-route volume is not impressive, but he’s running a ton of routes. Kmet logged 93% route participation in Week 12 and 96% in Week 13. That’s a crazy high level of receiving usage for a tight end. With Kmet having just a 15% target rate this season, he’ll need passing volume or a TD to pay off this week, but he’ll definitely be out there running routes.

David Montgomery has been pretty brutal this season, but he’ll also be on the field plenty. Montgomery ranks RB10 in snap share and RB5 in route participation. As far as efficiency goes, he’s not that bad in the passing game, and he breaks tackles well. But Montgomery is terrible at producing big plays; only Leonard Fournette, Samaje Perine, Melvin Gordon, and Cam Akers rank lower in breakaway yards per game.

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But Montgomery should see solid volume this week as the Bears attack the vulnerability of the Eagles’ defense. Despite not offering much explosion, Montgomery hasn’t been bottom of the barrel in success rate, ranking RB30. He should be able to help move the chain or at least not tank the offense. He profiles as a volume-based RB2.

Falcons at Saints, 1 PM Eastern, Sunday

Falcons Implied Team Total: 19.75

I feel kind of bad for Marcus Mariota. Sure, he didn’t play very well this season. But many quarterbacks have been far worse. The Falcons benching Mariota is akin to the Giants benching Daniel Jones. That wouldn’t be totally crazy if they had a rookie to check out, but no one is calling for Jones’ benching, either. Jones has been slightly more efficient than Mariota this season, and he’s been more accurate as well, but Mariota has been more consistent, ranking 11th in success rate.

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Of course, Mariota’s solid efficiency has been on a very small sample. And there’s a solid case to be made that the Falcons felt that Mariota was limiting what they could do on offense. Otherwise, why operate with a -13% PROE and an NFL-low -19% PROE on 1st-and-10.

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And while Mariota may have been efficient on a per-play basis, he was less so on a per-game basis, dropping from 19th to 22nd when looking at EPA per play vs. EPA per game. This again points to the idea that Mariota’s per-play efficiency wasn’t as valuable as it seemed because he was providing so few dropbacks in every game.

And although the Falcons have been allergic to passing the ball on first down—which probably hurt Mariota’s efficiency—they have been attempting to set him up for success in other ways. Most notably, Mariota has a league-high 44% play action rate. The Falcons are a bit obsessive about establishing the run, but at least they’re playing off the threat of the run to open things up in the passing game. With that in mind, Mariota’s efficiency could end up being pretty replaceable.

This also looks like good timing for the Falcons to make a quarterback switch, and not just because they are coming off a bye. Mariota has struggled badly when pressured this season, ranking QB27 in PFF’s grades under pressure. But Ridder will likely be even worse at dealing with pressure. As I noted in his pre-draft writeup, Ridder’s adjusted completion percentage under pressure ranked second percentile, and he had a six percentile sack rate. He took sacks at nearly a Malik Willis level, without the high-end rushing ability. That’s likely to create problems for Ridder and the Falcons’ offense this season. But his debut could go pretty well. The Saints rank just 21st in PFF’s pass rush grades and are just 31st in quick pressure rate.

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And although the Saints are solid against the run, there’s simply no way that the Falcons aren’t ridiculously run-heavy as they break in a rookie quarterback.

With that in mind, there should be plenty of rushing attempts in this backfield. That’s welcome news with Tyler Allgeier and Cordarrelle Patterson splitting touches. Unfortunately, this situation feels a bit like the pre-Dobbins Ravens, where guessing between Kenyan Drake and Gus Edwards always felt like a losing game. Or perhaps the current version of the Commanders is a better comparison.

We can feel confident that both of the top two backs will combine for 95%+ of snaps, but figuring out which spends more time on the field is going to be a guessing game.

Patterson has been an impressive rusher this season, ranking RB2 in success rate and RB8 in RYOE / attempt. Oddly, he hasn’t been all that involved or efficient as a receiver, but Patterson should be solidly efficient on the ground in a game where a split workload could generate plenty of work.

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Allgeier has been less impressive than Patterson but still showing well enough to continue earning volume. The rookie ranks RB13 in success rate and RB16 in RYOE / attempt. Patterson is the better bet, but Allgeier is in play as a TD-dependent RB2.

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The change to Ridder might not be great news for Drake London, who finally clicked with Mariota in their final game together. Against the Steelers, London saw a ridiculous 50% target share and 49% air yard share. And it wasn’t just spreadsheet volume for London; he connected with Mariota for a 4.32 YPRR. Unfortunately... we’re talking about all of this within the confines of the Falcons’ offense. London’s ridiculously efficient day was good for just six receptions for 95 yards on 12 targets. It was definitely nice to see, but even London’s spike weeks are likely to be capped by the low-volume nature of the Falcons’ offense. Still, there is some upside here if Ridder can help London deliver more efficiently on his targets. London has an elite 2.26 expected YPRR this year, which he is dramatically underproducing with his 1.72 YPRR. The quarterback change adds risk to London’s profile but could also bring some positive regression.

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15_falcons_yprr.png

Saints Implied Team Total: 23.75

The Saints haven’t been as run-heavy as teams like the Falcons and Bears, but they are a firmly run-first team in the mold of the Jets and 49ers. Understandably, they are not looking to feature the passing game with Andy Dalton at quarterback.

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And the Saints are entering a matchup that is well-suited for their baseline run-first philosophy. The Falcons rank 28th in EPA allowed per rush and 31st in rushing success rate. So the Saints should have no trouble establishing the ground game this week.

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However, the Falcons can also be passed on, ranking 29th in EPA allowed per dropback and 30th in dropback success rate. So while the Saints are unlikely to completely lean into this good passing matchup, they should be efficient when they do drop back.

And although Dalton is limiting what the Saints are willing to do on offense, he hasn’t been a disaster this season. Dalton ranks 16th in EPA per play and 12th in CPOE. He’s been able to facilitate the offense for the most part.

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And for fantasy purposes, we really only care if Dalton can facilitate strong outings for Chris Olave and Alvin Kamara. Both players are set up very well this week as the engines of their respective facets of the offense. The passing game runs through Chris Olave, and the backfield runs through Alvin Kamara.

Kamara’s usage has been frustrating at times this season. To that point, he saw just 59% of snaps in the Saints’ most recent game. However, with Mark Ingram out for this game, Kamara will likely have a workhorse snap share. He’ll also be involved as a receiver at a high rate. Kamara ranks RB3 in route participation and RB3 in target share. His rushing efficiency has fallen off fairly dramatically this year, but he remains very efficient as a receiver, ranking RB4 in YPRR. This matchup sets him up for an efficient day as a receiver and provides TD potential against a very poor defense. He profiles as an RB1.

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Olave continues to be a sleeping giant as a fantasy receiver. Granted, no one is unaware that Olave is having a great season. But the extent of that greatness is flying under the radar. Olave’s 2.61 expected YPRR trails only Tyreek Hill. He’s seeing massive target volume on a per-route basis. If the Saints get into a shootout script with inflated passing volume, Olave has the potential for a massive spike week. However, this does not look like that game. Instead, Olave is a strong bet to take advantage of a great matchup as an efficient deep threat. Olave’s 15.2 aDOT gives him a path to a big game without running many routes. He profiles as a WR2.

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Lions at Jets, 1 PM Eastern, Sunday

Lions Implied Team Total: 21.5

Jared Goff is coming off a very impressive two-week stretch. By EPA per play, his performances against the Jaguars and Vikings were his second and third-best outings this year.

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Goff is now up to eighth in EPA per play. Although, his accuracy remains a concern; he ranks 27th in CPOE. He may see some negative regression in his efficiency unless his accuracy improves.

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However, it’s easier to buy into Goff’s efficiency because of how the Lions run their offense. I’ve noted repeatedly this season that the Lions are prioritizing the pass on first down, setting Goff up for success. They’ve really leaned into that approach over the last two weeks with a 15% PROE on first down against the Jaguars and a 16% PROE on first down against the Vikings. Notably, they weren’t run first in either outing, with a 12% PROE in Week 13 and a 0% PROE last week.

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The Lions will undoubtedly pull back from this pass-heavy approach this week. They are facing a Jets defense that ranks sixth in EPA allowed per dropback but just 15th in EPA allowed per rush. It would frankly be odd if the Lions didn’t shift to a more balanced approach in this matchup.

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However, the gear they showed last week is still a good sign for how much they trust Goff to run their offense. Without that faith in their quarterback, we could see them go into an offensive shell against this difficult passing defense. However, it seems more likely they will maintain some balance this week, even if they roll out a slightly run-first game plan.

That keeps Amon-Ra St. Brown in play as an elite option. St. Brown has just a 6.8 aDOT, so volume is crucial to his fantasy ceiling. But St. Brown can see impressive target volume even in games when the Lions don’t have a ton of dropbacks. His 30% target rate ranks WR2, behind only Tyreek Hill. That target rate creates a ton of opportunity for St. Brown on a per-route basis. He has an elite 2.33 expected YPRR and is delivering efficiently on that volume with an ultra-elite 2.57 YPRR. This matchup provides some downside risk because there’s a chance that Goff simply isn’t up to the challenge this week. However, if Goff plays decently, St. Brown should have no trouble earning target volume.

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This isn’t a great matchup to play ancillary Lions receivers. However, I will note that D.J. Chark has had route rates of 95% and 90% over the last two weeks. He leads the Lions in routes over that span. That’s nice to see given that Jameson Williams has been seeing snaps for the first time this season. Williams is being used as a rotational player, with 5% and 15% route rates this year. But his routes are coming directly at Josh Reynolds‘s expense rather than Chark’s. Despite scoring a 41-yard TD last week, Williams’ lack of playing time keeps him off the fantasy radar. But Chark remains a viable dart throw even with Williams starting to work in.

In the backfield, things are a total mess. Jamaal Williams led the team with a 37% snap share, D’Andre Swift was at 35%, and Justin Jackson remained frustratingly involved with a 30% snap share. As part of a true three-way split, both Williams and Swift look TD-dependent. Swift’s receiving game usage gives him a decent ceiling if he can get in the end zone, but Jackson is stealing enough routes to limit Swift’s receiving production.

Jets Implied Team Total: 23

Mike White captured the imagination of the fantasy community when he exploded against the Bears in Week 12. However, he’s cooled off since, ranking just 29th in EPA per play over the last two weeks. However, White handled himself well last week against a difficult Bills defense. The fact that he didn’t crater after looking shaky against the Vikings is an excellent sign for how he might play against the Lions this week. The Lions rank just 30th in EPA allowed per dropback and 28th in dropback success rate. The Lions aren’t quite to the Bears’ level of defensive incompetence, but they are not a good defense.

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The Lions are also vulnerable on the ground, ranking 26th in EPA allowed per rush. That should be especially helpful for the Jets, who have been run first this season, even with White at quarterback.

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An efficient, balanced attack should make Zonovan Knight a solid RB2 play. Knight played on only 47% of snaps to Michael Carter’s 50%, but Knight dominated carries with 17 attempts to Carter’s five. Carter could have some PPR value as a dump-off receiving option, but Knight looks like the far more interesting bet as the Jets’ early-down hammer in a good rushing matchup.

But, of course, the most interesting fantasy option on the Jets remains Garrett Wilson. Wilson ran a route on 100% of dropbacks against the Bills. He had a quiet game by his recent standards, with six receptions for 78 yards, but there’s no reason to worry about his upside going forward. He is locked in as the Jets’ No. 1 receiver.

And Wilson is a strong bet to be productive when on the field. He leads all rookie receivers in ESPN’s open score, ranking 90th percentile overall. And although his 2.00 YPRR isn’t off the charts by veteran receiver standards, it is an extremely strong mark for a rookie. Wilson profiles as a WR1 in a plus matchup.

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As you can see above, even when on the field, Moore has not compared well with Wilson this year. However, if Corey Davis misses this game with a concussion we can expect to see a lot of Moore... finally. Against the Bills, Moore ran a route on 92% of dropbacks, tied for his second-highest rate of the season. Wilson is a much safer bet for targets, but Moore is an interesting DFS option as part of what could be a productive Jets passing game.

To that point, Tyler Conklin remains in the mix. He logged 71% route participation last week and is at 72% this season. His 18% target rate isn’t great, but he has a decent chance for a productive day if the Jets move the chains against a vulnerable Lions defense.

Steelers at Panthers, 1 PM Eastern, Sunday

Steelers Implied Team Total: 17.25

Kenny Pickett logged limited practices on Wednesday and Thursday, but the Steelers are prepping to play without him. And honestly, whether or not Pickett plays probably won’t have a huge impact on the offense. In fact, Trubisky has been more efficient this season, ranking 28th in EPA per play, with Pickett at 30th. Pickett’s accuracy points to a higher ceiling than he’s shown so far, but we should get more or less the status quo in passing efficiency this week.

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The Steelers are going against a middling Panthers defense that ranks 11th in EPA allowed per dropback and 14th in EPA allowed per rush. Pittsburgh has been a perfectly balanced team this season with a 0% PROE both overall and on 1st-and-10. They’ll likely maintain that balance in this neutral matchup.

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Even if the Steelers shift to a more run-first approach this week, it’s not a great setup for Najee Harris. Harris was down to a 56% snap share against the Ravens. His efficiency has been dreadful the season, and while he’ll likely play more than he did in Week 14, Harris has no real shot of a workhorse role. That’s unfortunate, given that only Cam Akers and Melvin Gordon rank lower in RYOE / attempt.

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The passing game is similarly uninspiring. Pat Freiermuth has logged back-to-back DNPs with a foot injury. If he misses the game, that will condense things, at least. However, targets really haven’t been a problem for Diontae Johnson. Instead, he’s struggled to do anything when targeted. His 5.8 YPT ranks just 10th percentile among wide receivers. This is causing a massive gap between his 1.94 expected YPRR and the very poor 1.28 YPRR he is delivering. If you’ve been betting on positive regression for Johnson, you’ve gone broke by now. But the quarterback change may shake something loose.

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Freiermuth’s absence could help George Pickens, who has not been a huge part of the game plan. He has a first-read target on 14% of his routes, which is well below Johnson’s much stronger 21% rate. Freiermuth is gobbling up first-read targets, so Pickens should be a bigger part of the game plan if the tight end can’t go.

However, Freiermuth missing this game would rob the Steelers’ offense of its most fantasy-relevant receiver. Freiermuth leads the team with a very strong 1.86 YPRR that is fully supported by his target volume. He’s also seeing a 20% first read target rate, which is 98th percentile among tight ends. He’s a strong start if he suits up.

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Panthers Implied Team Total: 20.25

Sam Darnold has played shockingly well this season. Granted, we have a small sample for Darnold in 2022 and a much larger sample of him being terrible. But what he’s shown in two games this year has been impressive. Among quarterbacks with 50+ plays, he ranks 13th in EPA per play and fourth in CPOE.

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Obviously, Darnold is going to regress from his current level of play. But he should be able to maintain decent efficiency against this defense. The Steelers rank 20th in EPA allowed per dropback and 21st in EPA allowed per rush.

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The Panthers will welcome this matchup, where a run-first approach won’t get them in trouble. Since Steve Wilks took over the team, the Panthers have gone pass-first just once and have often been very run-heavy. They will likely lean on the run again this week, utilizing Darnold mostly to help move the chains. Given that the Steelers are fairly weak against the pass, we probably won’t see the Panthers be as extreme in their run-first approach as we sometimes have, but we can count on them to run the ball.

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Unfortunately, the Panthers’ backfield has devolved into a bit of a split. Against the Seahawks, D’Onta Foreman played 48% of snaps, with Chuba Hubbard at 32% and Raheem Blackshear at 19%. But Foreman still managed to see 21 carries... which is the silver lining to the Panthers’ ground-and-pound approach. Foreman is far from a complete back, but he is churning out yards with impressive consistency, ranking RB5 in success rate. He profiles as an RB2 option.

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With Sam Darnold playing pretty well and facing a vulnerable Steelers pass defense, this is a decent spot to let D.J. Moore hurt us again. Moore goose-egged against the Seahawks, failing to secure his three targets. But for the second straight week, Moore had 100% route participation. He’ll be on the field in a good matchup. And even with last week’s matchup included, Moore’s overall profile looks pretty good. With a strong 1.98 expected YPRR and 19% first read target rate, last week’s no-show should be a one-time thing. However, it’s worth noting that Moore has just a 17th-percentile open score. We can blame a lot of his poor season on bad quarterback play... but not all of it. Moore is struggling to get open, which helps explain why his NFL-leading 45% air yard share hasn’t led to more production.

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Cowboys at Jaguars, 1 PM Eastern, Sunday

Cowboys Implied Team Total: 26

Only three teams have yet to post a positive PROE this season: the Falcons, Bears... and Cowboys. Sure, Dak Prescott didn’t finish his first game until Week 7. But Prescott has now played seven games and has been excellent, ranking seventh in EPA per play.

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Prescott also ranks fourth in success rate. It’s hard to understand why the Cowboys are hiding him rather than leaning into the strength of their passing game. To be fair, although the Cowboys have been as consistently run first as the Falcons and Bears, they aren’t really in the same ballpark in terms of offensive philosophy. But still, the Cowboys are definitely prioritizing the run. Since Week 7, they have a -5% PROE and a -3% PROE on 1st-and-10.

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Given how consistent the Cowboys have been about prioritizing the run, it takes a leap of faith to believe that they will attack this matchup in the way that makes the most sense on paper. The Jaguars are absolutely terrible against the pass. They rank 26th in EPA allowed per dropback and 26th in dropback success rate. But those numbers likely understate just how vulnerable the Jaguars are to opposing passing games—because they have had a very easy schedule this season. If the Cowboys lean into this matchup, they can have a ton of success through the air.

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The Jaguars are better against the run than the pass, but it’s not like they have a shutdown run defense. So I am somewhat skeptical that the Cowboys will go pass-heavy this week. But there’s a good chance that passing volume will at least be higher than usual.

Obviously, CeeDee Lamb is far and away the best bet in the passing game. He has an outstanding 2.32 YPRR, which is fully supported by his target volume. And although Lamb had a quiet game against the Texans, the Jaguars will have a tough time taking him away. Lamb has been double-teamed on 28% of his routes, which ranks 93rd percentile. Yet he is still getting open at a very high rate, ranking 90th percentile in ESPN’s open score. Lamb is also the engine of the Cowboys’ passing attack, with a first-read target on 22% of his routes, a 95th percentile rate. After disappointing against the Texans, Lamb gets the bounce-back spot of all bounce-back spots. If the Cowboys implement a pass-first game plan for the first time this season against this extremely vulnerable Jaguars secondary, Lamb could have a massive week.

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Beyond Lamb, passing volume will be important because the Cowboys have several secondary receiving options. Michael Gallup is dramatically underperforming his target volume with a 1.23 YPRR, well below expectations. That makes him much more interesting than Noah Brown, especially considering we can expect better efficiency for Cowboys receivers in this matchup. Dalton Schultz has also seen strong target volume on a per-route basis. And with route rates of 90% and 88% over the last two weeks, he has elite tight end upside in this matchup.

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Things remain split in the backfield, but it was nice to see Tony Pollard return to a lead in snap share (58%) after Ezekiel Elliott led the way (56%) in Week 13. Neither back is likely to see a true lead-back snap share this week, but Pollard’s explosive skill set keeps him in play as a high-end RB2.

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Jaguars Implied Team Total: 22

Trevor Lawrence is coming off a very strong game against the Titans. In Week 14, he finished second in EPA per play and seventh in CPOE. Lawrence is now up to 10th in EPA per play this season. And although his accuracy has been inconsistent, he is at a respectable 14th in CPOE.

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But Lawrence is about to face an extremely difficult test against a Cowboys defense that ranks third in EPA allowed per dropback and seventh in dropback success rate. Still, Lawrence has a real shot of succeeding in this matchup because of the strength of the Jaguars’ pass blocking. Jacksonville ranks fourth in PFF’s pass-blocking grades and are allowing quick pressures at the fourth-lowest rate. The Cowboys lead the NFL in quick pressure rate, and their excellent pass rush ranks second in PFF’s grades. It’s a matchup of strength vs. strength in the trenches.

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However, the Jaguars could get into trouble here if they don’t trust their passing game to hold up against this elite defense. The Cowboys have been a major run funnel this season. Opponents are averaging a -8% PROE and are shifting 6% to the run; they rank as the biggest run funnel in the NFL. But as you can see above, the Cowboys are fairly good against the run. Some teams have had some success on the ground against them, but Dallas’ elite pass rush is the primary driver of run-heavy game plans against them.

If the Jaguars decide to go with a run-heavy game plan, it will not be a battle of strength against strength. The Jaguars rank just 25th in EPA per rush. They are not likely to be particularly efficient on the ground unless Travis Etienne can rip off some big plays.

Etienne has had a rough two-week stretch, but his rushing profile remains fairly strong. He ranks 11th in success rate and seventh in RYOE / attempt. While the Cowboys aren’t an ideal matchup, the Jaguars could lean on him in a big way if they are struggling to protect Lawrence.

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Etienne’s promise as a receiving back hasn’t really materialized. He ranks RB28 in target share and RB24 in YPRR. But if the Jaguars lean on him as a rusher, he has true workhorse upside.

Although the last two weeks have been disappointing from a fantasy perspective, Etienne has seen a ton of playing time. He had an 88% snap share against the Lions and was at 75% against the Titans. With that level of involvement, it’s only a matter of time before the big-play runner pays off. He profiles as a high-end RB2.

But while Etienne has a high ceiling in this matchup, a heavy dose of the ground game could hurt the offense’s efficiency. And it’s hard to trust the Jaguars not to roll out a run-first game plan this week. The Jaguars aren’t ideologically committed to the run. They were pass-heavy against the Lions (4% PROE) and the Titans (6%) over the last two weeks. But both of those matchups are near-ideal settings for aggressive game plans.

This week, the Jaguars could return to the balanced philosophy they have operated with for most of the season. If the Cowboys aren’t aggressive on the other side of this game, that will make a balanced approach all the more comfortable.

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With both passing volume and passing efficiency in question this week, it’s not an ideal matchup for Jaguars pass catchers. And although Evan Engram showed against the Titans that target volume can condense within a one-game sample, this passing game is spread out. Among the main Jaguars receivers, Zay Jones leads the group with a 1.79 expected YPRR. That level of target volume is fine for a secondary receiver, but it is not impressive for a No. 1 option.

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Of course, almost every fantasy manager on the planet would consider Christian Kirk the Jaguars’ No. 1 receiver. However, what’s the point of being a team’s nominal top option if you can’t earn better per route target volume than Zay Jones. Kirk leads the Jaguars with a 1.82 YPRR, but his role in the offense isn’t particularly exciting. With a 9.5 aDOT, volume is a key component to his fantasy profile. Unfortunately, this matchup puts volume in question, making Kirk an uninspiring WR3.

Engram’s career day against the Titans was largely a product of playing a pass funnel defense in a week when the Jaguars decided to lean on Lawrence. However, Engram was clearly in the Jaguars’ plans last week. He saw a first-read target on 25% of his routes, which led the team. First-read targets have been a strength for Engram all season. With a 15% first-read target rate, he is in the 84th percentile among tight ends. Engram is also running a ton of routes; his 80% route rate is in the 91st percentile. Last week might be the best day in his career, but it wasn’t as fluky as it might seem.

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Chiefs at Texans, 1 PM Eastern, Sunday

Chiefs Implied Team Total: 31.75

Last week I predicted that the Chiefs would attack the Broncos aggressively through the air. Although the Broncos have a strong pass defense, I had a hard time believing that Andy Reid wouldn’t let Patrick Mahomes cook against them. Reid did not let me down. The Chiefs posted a 14% PROE with an 18% PROE on 1st-and-10. They did not let the matchup prevent them from deploying the most pass-heavy game plan of the week.

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However, Mahomes’ performance against the Broncos was definitely a little disappointing. He ranked eighth in EPA per play and 19th in CPOE, tossing three interceptions in a game that might have been very close, had Russell Wilson not suffered a concussion. But there’s no reason to worry about Mahomes going forward. He leads the NFL in success rate and leads the NFL in EPA per game by a wide margin.

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Instead, the bigger concern for Mahomes this week is that he won’t be on the field long enough to produce a big-time fantasy performance. But although the Texans rank 31st in PFF’s run defense grades, the Chiefs are unlikely to pivot heavily to the run against them. Sure, they could be balanced like they were against the Chargers in Week 11 or even slightly run first like they were against the Bengals in Week 13. But against a pass defense that ranks 31st in PFF’s coverage grades, it’s also completely possible that the Chiefs are aggressive about putting up points through the air this week. After the Texans just scared the Cowboys last week as huge underdogs, there’s no reason for the Chiefs to mess around.

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Unfortunately, Travis Kelce is the only Chiefs receiver that looks completely trustworthy. Kelce’s profile is elite across the board. But his elite efficiency is drawing a lot of defensive attention. His 30% double coverage rate ranks 98th percentile among tight ends. This creates risk for the occasional dud, but there is no doubt that Kelce is the top tight end option this week.

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JuJu Smith-Schuster is definitely somewhat trustworthy, as far as the Chiefs wide receivers go. He had a 29% target rate against the Broncos and led the team with 86% route participation. However, Smith-Schuster is very much a volume play. His 7.3 aDOT doesn’t give him much upside for big plays. Instead, his PPR value primarily derives from his ability to rack up target volume. Unfortunately, this is not an ideal week for that kind of play, given the real chance that the Chiefs pull their starters in this game.

Still, there’s really no one else here to recommend. Per ESPN’s open score, only Julio Jones and A.J. Green have been less impressive at getting open this season than Marquez Valdes-Scantling. With unimpressive per-route target volume across the board, it makes sense to stick with JuJu. At least we know he will be out there running routes and can get open underneath.

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If this game plays out as expected, the Chiefs will likely be salting away a lead for much of the second half. That sets up Isiah Pacheco for a potential spike week. Pacheco has offered nothing in the passing game this season, with just a 2% target share that ranks RB49. But he’s been solidly efficient per NFL Next Gen, ranking RB15 in success rate and RB8 in RYOE / attempt. Pacheco has yet to have more than a 56% snap share this season, so his odds of being a workhorse are very low, even in a blowout script. However, his efficiency indicates TD potential in a great rushing matchup. He profiles as a solid RB2.

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Texans Implied Team Total: 17.75

Davis Mills returned to the lineup in Week 14—although, hilariously, he was in a platoon with Jeff Driskel. This committee approach actually worked out fairly well for the Texans, who ranked fifth in EPA per dropback. But that success was driven more by Mills, who finished sixth in EPA per play, than by Driskel, who finished 15th. Still, we are talking about an offense that ranks dead last in EPA per dropback this season, so we can’t fault them for experimenting.

And even though Mills had a good game in a tough matchup last week, he’s still a very shaky bet for continued success; he ranks 35th in EPA per play this season.

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But Mills is at least moving from an elite Cowboys defense to a Chiefs defense that just allowed the Broncos’ passing offense to come to life. The Chiefs rank 20th in EPA allowed per dropback, and are mediocre across the board, ranking 17th in EPA allowed per rush.

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This looks like a good matchup for the Texans, who have been a balanced team this season. Houston has a -2% PROE, the 18th highest in the league. However, they have generally prioritized the pass on first down, with a 2% PROE that ranks 10th. They are calling plays a bit like the Lions. They have an overall lean to the run but a lean to the pass on first down.

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15_texans_proe.png

Granted, the Texans are coming off a game where they were very run-heavy both overall and on first down. However, that was against a Cowboys’ defense which is an extreme run funnel. So it’s likely that they will return to a balanced or pass-first approach, knowing that Patrick Mahomes will be putting up points on the other side.

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15_texans_proe_trend.png

With both Brandin Cooks and Nico Collins expected to miss this game, the Texans will be leaning on Chris Moore and Philip Dorsett. Both wide receivers logged 93% route participation against the Cowboys. And although Amari Rodgers caught the only TD, he ran a route on only 69% of dropbacks.

Moore looks like the safest punt play option, but only if Cooks is actually ruled out. Moore typically plays in the slot and only takes on outside routes when both Collins and Cooks are out. But if Cooks is out, Moore is pretty interesting for DFS. His 7.8 aDOT makes him very likely to catch at least a few passes. With the play here being cheap passing volume, Moore looks like the most clear-cut way to make that bet. He also saw a first-read target on 30% of his routes last week, so he may be the favored option in the game plan once again.

With Dameon Pierce out with a high ankle sprain, the Texans will likely turn to Rex Burkhead to carry the load. Burkhead is 32 years old and finished third to last in RYOE / attempt last season and second to last in success rate... so it’s hard to have a ton of optimism about what he might do here—especially if he’s splitting snaps with Dare Ogunbowale. He’s not an insane punt play, but the Chiefs’ defense is far more competent than the Chargers’ defense that Burkhead ran all over last year.

Cardinals at Broncos, 4:05 PM Eastern, Sunday

Cardinals Implied Team Total: 17

With Kyler Murray suffering an ACL tear, Colt McCoy will be captaining the Cardinals against a difficult Broncos defense. The Broncos rated better before facing the Chiefs—Patrick Mahomes will do that to you—but they are still a high-end pass defense. The Broncos rank fifth in EPA allowed per dropback (down from third) and second in dropback success rate (down from first).

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It’s not the type of matchup to be overly concerned about if you have the best quarterback in the game. But it’s definitely one to be worried about if you have the worst. And, apologies to McCoy, but he does technically rate as the worst quarterback in the NFL through the lens of Ben Baldwin’s adjusted EPA per play (which reduces the impact of turnovers). McCoy ranks 36-of-38 by the standard calculation. (I typically refer to Baldwin’s version).

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15_cardinals_epa.png

McCoy has been decently accurate this season, so his play may regress positively. However, this is not an ideal matchup for positive regression. And even if McCoy does play better, we’re probably talking about a Mac Jones or Kenny Pickett level of play... which is not exciting.

Therefore, this is not good news for Cardinals pass catchers. McCoy’s play has been bad enough that it won’t just affect their efficiency. It’s likely to impact their volume as well, with the Cardinals potentially pivoting to the run here. Although, interestingly, the Cardinals haven’t played it that way with McCoy so far this season. McCoy first saw playing time in Week 10, and the Cardinals were pass-first in that game. They were also pass-first last week against the Patriots, which is a decent comp for the Broncos’ defense since New England is much stronger against the pass than the run.

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15_cardinals_proe_trend.png

Oddly, the Cardinals were the least aggressive in the one game over the last five weeks that Murray has played: Week 12 against the Chargers. So perhaps Kliff Kingsbury will remain more committed to the pass than expected with McCoy under center.

But still, passing efficiency looks like a major concern. And unfortunately, DeAndre Hopkins’ role in the offense looks less locked in now that Marquise Brown is back in the lineup. Since Brown returned in Week 12, both players have seen 16 first-read targets. Hopkins has a higher first-read target rate (21% to 19%), but only because he’s run fewer routes. With Rondale Moore out for the season, this offense will remain highly concentrated to their top two receivers. However, given the quarterback play, the matchup, and a meager game total, we would strongly prefer a true alpha receiver. Instead, we could see a tandem dynamic like we’ve seen from the Eagles the last few weeks. But if we’re comparing this duo to Philadelphia’s, Hopkins definitely looks more like A.J. Brown.

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Hopkins has shown an ability to dominate targets that Marquise Brown has not. So even though he is definitely at risk of Brown cutting into his target volume in a meaningful way, Hopkins still looks like a WR2. Brown profiles as a FLEX.

Fortunately, we do not have to worry about volume in the backfield. James Conner has logged snap shares of 96%, 97%, and 95% over the last three weeks. If you close your eyes and think about league winners, his name should come to mind.

Conner has not run all that well this season, ranking RB31 in RYOE / attempt. But he’s been decently consistent, ranking RB20 in success rate. And he should be able to generate average efficiency against a Broncos’ run defense that ranks 18th in EPA allowed per rush. More importantly, Conner can have a good game without strong efficiency. That is the power of a 95%+ snap share. Conner ranks RB14 in target share and should be involved regardless of game script, making him a volume-based RB1.

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15_cardinals_conner.png

Broncos Implied Team Total: 20

Russell Wilson will likely miss this game with a concussion, leaving Brett Rypien at quarterback. Wilson has definitely been a major disappointment this season. He ranks 27th in EPA per play and 29th in CPOE. He’s been far less efficient than he was earlier in his career and lost his signature accuracy. However, there’s a difference between being disappointing and being Brett Rypien. And although we only have 61 plays from Rypien this season, what he has shown so far has been far worse than what we have seen from Wilson. Among quarterbacks with at least 60 plays, only John Wolford, Sam Ehlinger, Skylar Thompson, and Kyle Allen have been less efficient.

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Fortunately, Rypien is going against an extremely vulnerable Cardinals defense that ranks dead last in dropback success rate. The Cardinals are also beatable on the ground, so the Broncos shouldn’t be overly disadvantaged by a game plan that is likely to lean on the run and hide Rypien.

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To his credit, Nathaniel Hackett went pass-heavy for the second time all season against the Chiefs. The Broncos posted a 5% PROE and a very aggressive 20% PROE on 1st-and-10. This came just one week after they unsuccessfully tried to establish the run against the Ravens. The Broncos are finally experimenting with different game plans to see if they can get something going.

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15_broncos_proe_trend.png

The Broncos are now facing a Cardinals defense that is the biggest pass funnel in the league. If Wilson clears the concussion protocol, the Broncos may lean into the pass for the second straight week. However, with Wilson more likely to miss this game, it’s hard to imagine the Broncos being aggressive with Rypien under center.

But at least target volume will remain condensed, with Courtland Sutton unlikely to play. With Sutton out against the Chiefs, Jerry Jeudy went off for 8-73-3 on a team-leading nine targets. He’s a far less exciting play with Wilson out of the lineup, but he’s in play as a deep league FLEX. And if Wilson goes, he should be in any lineups that you considered putting him in last week.

However, I should note that Jeudy had an unimpressive 11% first-read target rate against the Chiefs, seeing two fewer first-read targets than Greg Dulcich. And the nice thing about Dulcich, of course, is that even if he flops, it will have far less impact on your fantasy roster than if Jeudy disappoints in a WR or FLEX spot.

Another nice thing about Dulcich is that he is targeted deep downfield. His 12.7 aDOT is in the 98th percentile for tight ends. If you’re going to bet on a player in a game with a 37 total, it’s best if he can make his day on only a couple of plays.

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15_broncos_dulcich.png

That is not the case in the backfield, with Latavius Murray‘s playing time trending down. Murray was at just a 53% snap share in Week 14. With Mike Boone out, he could jump back into the 65% range, but he’s unlikely to be a true workhorse. The issue is that Marlon Mack is now involved. Mack had a 32% snap share against the Chiefs, and we can’t blame the Broncos for looking for other answers, given what Murray has done for them this season.

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15_broncos_murray.png

Patriots at Raiders, 4:05 PM Eastern, Sunday

Patriots Implied Team Total: 21.5

It’s been a rough season for Mac Jones. As a rookie, Jones finished 10th in EPA per play, leading the Patriots to the playoffs. But this season, he’s fallen to 32nd in EPA per play. Fortunately, Jones has remained accurate. He finished eighth in CPOE as a rookie and ranks 11th this season. And over the last two seasons, Jones ranks fifth in CPOE among the 32 quarterbacks with 600+ plays. His consistent accuracy gives him hope for positive regression in the right matchup.

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And if Jones is the right matchup away from a more efficient passing day, he gets the perfect opponent this week. The Raiders rank 31st in EPA allowed per dropback and 29th in dropback success rate. They have also had a fairly easy schedule of opposing quarterbacks, which makes their inability to stop opposing passers even more troubling. As Baker Mayfield found out last week, you don’t even need to know the playbook to beat the Raiders through the air.

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The problem with the Patriots’ offense is that even if we know they are going to have success through the air, it’s hard to do much with that information. If Jakobi Meyers was healthy, that might not be the case. Meyers has been the clear top option for New England this season. But with Meyers out of the lineup, it’s more difficult to project where targets will go. It does at least seem very likely that Nelson Agholor and Tyquan Thornton will lead the team in route participation.

Agholor had a 100% route rate against the Cardinals, with Thornton at 97%. The rookie has struggled to earn target volume, with just a 1.19 expected YPRR. And he’s done very little with the targets he has seen, producing just a 0.71 YPRR. But Agholor could be useful if he’s out there for every route. He’s probably too thin for fantasy lineups, but is in play for DFS.

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In the backfield, Rhamondre Stevenson looks unlikely to play, but we should see the return of Damien Harris. Harris is set up fairly well because the Patriots should be able to keep the chains moving this week. And while the Raiders are stronger against the run than the pass, they can be run on. In particular, they rank just 21st in rushing success rate. That is an ideal fit for Harris, who has only flashed as a consistent yardage producer this season. He ranks RB7 in success rate.

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Even with Stevenson out, Harris is unlikely to be the workhorse Stevenson was in recent weeks. But he should still get plenty of early down work in a good matchup for the offense, making him a viable RB2.

Raiders Implied Team Total: 23

The Raiders are coming off a matchup with the Rams, one of the best run defenses in the NFL. But head scratchingly, the Raiders refused to play to the defensive matchup. Instead, they tried to run out the clock for an entire football game, pivoting to a -20% PROE, their lowest of the season. This is a weird way to play a strong run defense.

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And although the Raiders looked semi-committed to the pass to start the season, last week was the continuation of a clear trend toward the run. The Raiders have posted a 0% PROE or below in 10 straight weeks. And they haven’t had a positive PROE both overall and on first down since Week 1.

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It’s not hard to imagine how the Raiders will approach a matchup with one of the best pass defenses in the league. The Patriots rank first in EPA allowed per dropback and first in dropback success rate. Even if the Raiders were an aggressive pass-happy offense, they might think twice about throwing this week. As a firmly run-heavy team, they’re a strong bet to play conservatively here.

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And although Mac Jones should be efficient this week, he probably will not be productive enough to push the Raiders off their offense of game plan. That means we should see a heavy dose of Josh Jacobs once again.

Jacobs is going against a Patriots defense that is solid against the run, ranking ninth in EPA allowed per rush. However, Jacob’s lock on volume should lessen any concerns about his efficiency. Even while playing through some minor injuries, Jacobs has posted a 75%+ snap share in five straight games. And we can’t rule out a highly efficient outing for Jacobs, who has been excellent this season.

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Ranking RB8 in RYOE / attempt and RB6 in breakaway yards per game, Jacobs has shown some real explosiveness. He’s more than just a bet on volume. Jacobs is still locked in as an elite running back despite an imperfect matchup.

And despite a very difficult passing matchup, Davante Adams also remains an elite play. Adams leads the NFL with a 32% target share and ranks second with a 43% air yard share. He has the largest share of any passing offense, with a league-leading 0.79 WOPR. And Adams’ success has been driven by his ability to get open. He has a 94th percentile open score, ranking behind only Tyler Lockett, A.J. Brown, Diontae Johnson, and Stefon Diggs. Facing Bill Belichick, Adams is very likely to see extra defensive attention. But it’s not like other teams haven’t thought of that. He’s seeing double coverage on 25% of his routes, an 87th-percentile rate. Adams is an elite play every single week.

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Titans at Chargers, 4:25 Eastern, Sunday

Titans Implied Team Total: 21.75

Facing the Jaguars in Week 14, the Titans were in a matchup that clearly called for increased passing volume. And the Titans didn’t completely ignore the matchup. Sure, they were still run-first, but they established it less than usual.

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This week, the Titans can get back to basics. They are facing a Chargers defense that is terrible against the run. Los Angeles ranks 26th in rushing success rate, 29th in EPA allowed per rush, and 30th in PFF’s run defense grades. Mike Vrabel won’t exactly be racking his brain to figure out this week’s game plan.

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And Henry will be helped out by the fact the Chargers are not particularly good against the pass. They rank 15th in EPA allowed per dropback and 14th in dropback success rate. Most notably, the Chargers do not have a pass rush. They rank just 28th in PFF’s pass rush grades and 25th in quick pressure rate, so Tannehill should have more time to throw than usual. But this being the Titans, we know that a good day for Tannehill is more reason to be excited about Henry. They should be able to reestablish their classic dynamic of a big play running game with a low-volume but efficient play action passing game.

Derrick Henry hasn’t been as impressive as he was at his game-breaking height, but he still is flashing big-play upside. Henry ranks RB7 in breakaway yards per game and RB1 in YPRR. He could easily shred this Chargers’ defense. You can bet against Henry having a big day against a horrible run defense in mid-December if you want, but I’m not going to.

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Tannehill has actually been pretty decent this season, ranking 15th in EPA per play and 13th in CPOE. His play has been similar to Kirk Cousins. But Tannehill won’t see his play elevated by a superstar receiver. He doesn’t have Justin Jefferson—and this week, he won’t even have Treylon Burks. Burks is set to miss his second game with a concussion, forcing the Titans to lean on Nick Westbrook-Ikhine and Robert Woods.

The wild thing about Woods’ lack of production is that Westbrook-Ikhine has been seen extra defensive attention at a much higher rate than Woods. So Woods isn’t even earning much respect from opposing defenses, yet he still isn’t producing with just a 1.19 YPRR. Westbrook-Ikhine has been slightly worse at 1.17. Neither receiver looks fantasy relevant.

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But Chig Okonkwo is definitely flashing some target-earning ability. He has an ultra-elite 2.58 expected YPRR and is delivering an elite 2.04 YPRR—which leads the team. He remains in play as a tight end option. This is a more difficult passing matchup than the Jaguars, but the Titans might be scoring more points, making it a similar spot to last week. Unfortunately, Okonkwo is splitting time with Austin Hooper. In fact, the rookie had just 52% route participation last week with Cooper at 59%. This makes Okonkwo a very risky play. Still, the lack of other weapons in the offense should keep him involved. If the Titans put up points through the air this week, he should be part of the fun.

Chargers Implied Team Total: 24.75

Justin Herbert has totaled 702 yards over his last two games but we’re still not happy. He’s thrown for only one TD in each outing, and despite piling up yards he hasn’t been that efficient. Against two vulnerable pass defenses, Herbert was just 19th in EPA per play over the last two weeks. That’s not much better than his 22nd ranking for the season.

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Fortunately, Herbert gets another easy matchup this week against a Titans defense that ranks 26th in EPA allowed per dropback. And we can also be confident that Herbert will have passing volume. Because the Titans are an extreme pass funnel. Opponents are averaging a 4% PROE against them and are shifting 4% to the pass. They are doing so to avoid a run defense that ranks first in EPA allowed per rush and first in rushing success rate.

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The Chargers have been a pass-first team this season. But their commitment to the pass has not always come from a position of strength. Like the Buccaneers, they often need to pass the ball to stay in games and haven’t fought against that type of game script. Instead, they’re leaning into it. Still, they aren’t dictating the pass to their opponents like we’ve seen from the Bengals and Bills.

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But this game should be a bit different now that Herbert has his weapons back for the second straight week. With Mike Williams and Keenan Allen in the lineup against the Dolphins, the Chargers were very aggressive about passing the ball. They posted a 14% PROE and a 12% PROE on 1st-and-10. And they were pass-heavy in a game that they led throughout. It’s a great sign for how they might play this week.

And the offense does make a lot more sense with everyone healthy. Mike Williams and Josh Palmer had aDOTs of 15.7 and 15.3, operating as true deep threats. Neither player was targeted at a high rate but both racked up air yards. Williams posted a 35% air yard share, with Palmer at 34%. This helped open up space underneath, allowing Keenan Allen to see 13 targets and a team-leading 28% target share. Austin Ekeler was also a part of the game plan underneath, seeing eight targets.

Hopefully, the Titans’ defense will continue paying attention to Mike Williams... because he isn’t getting open. He has an open score in just the 28th percentile. But if Williams can help draw defensive attention and free up Allen, we can work with that. Allen isn’t getting open all that well either, ranking 48th percentile in open score. But with Williams drawing coverage and a high-volume passing matchup on tap, Allen looks like a low-end WR1. Williams has more of a boom-bust profile but still looks like a WR2 in a plus matchup.

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Gerald Everett looks like a TD-dependent bet. There’s only so much good that additional dropbacks will do for Everett, who has route rates of just 63% and 66% over the last two weeks. He is a part-time tight end.

Austin Ekeler obviously remains a locked-in elite play. A more functional passing game will mean plenty of targets for Ekeler. And honestly, a difficult rushing matchup is a good thing because it will keep Ekeler’s involvement primarily to the passing game. Ekeler has not been efficient as a rusher this season but has remained electric as a receiver, ranking RB5 in YPRR.

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Bengals at Buccaneers, 4:25 Eastern, Sunday

Bengals Implied Team Total: 24

Only three teams this season are aggressively pass-heavy: the Chiefs, Bills, and Bengals. Sure, the Chargers, Dolphins, Seahawks, Buccaneers, and Vikings all have a PROE of at least 3%. Therefore, you could make a case that all of them should be considered pass-heavy teams. However, those teams are generally flowing with the game script rather than forcing the issue and consistently dictating a pass-heavy game script. That is especially true of the Buccaneers.

On the other hand, the Bengals are playing a lot like the Bills. They have an expected pass rate similar to the Cowboys and 49ers. Yet they have been passing far more often, indicating a clear commitment to the passing game.

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That commitment should come in handy this week against a Buccaneers defense that is better against the pass than the run but isn’t an elite defense on either front. The Buccaneers rank ninth in EPA allowed per dropback and ninth in success rate. They are a capable pass defense but not a shutdown one. Tampa Bay is more vulnerable on the ground, ranking 20th in EPA allowed per rush. But they rank a respectable 10th in rushing success rate and are not the type of defense where establishing the run is a no-brainer.

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In other words, this is an ambiguous matchup. However, the Buccaneers’ lack of a pass rush provides some key insight into how this matchup might unfold. The Bengals’ ability to protect Joe Burrow is the Achilles heel of their offense. The Bengals rank 28th in PFF’s pass blocking grades and allow quick pressures at the 18th highest rate. But the Buccaneers are unlikely to punish them for these weaknesses. They rank 29th in PFF’s pass rush grades and 23rd in quick pressure rate. The Bengals will not be afraid of the Buccaneers’ solid coverage abilities. If Burrow can dropback at a high rate without being harassed, he is a great bet to win against the Tampa Bay secondary.

And again, if Burrow is well protected, the Bengals should be very willing to lean into an aggressive game plan. Burrow has been excellent this season, and not just on a per-play basis. His ability to deliver efficiently on high-volume puts him just slightly below the top quarterbacks this year. Burrow ranks fifth in EPA per game behind Patrick Mahomes, Jalen Hurts, Josh Allen, and Tua Tagovailoa.

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His ability to take full advantage of this matchup will partially depend on whether Tee Higgins can play more than one snap. Higgins has been limited in practice this week, and Zac Taylor‘s Week 14 shenanigans make it tough to trust Higgins against the Buccaneers. But his presence on the field should be a big boost for the offense. And in this matchup, he’s worth taking the risk on as a WR3. But Higgins’ profile is far less exciting than Ja’Marr Chase‘s.

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Chase looks set up for a spike week. Teams are desperately trying to take him away, but it is simply not working. Chase leads the NFL with a 35% double coverage rate, yet he has an open score in the 87th percentile. It’s not like Chase will really see any more double coverage than he already is if Higgins and Boyd (finger) are limited.

In fact, if Higgins is limited, Chase’s targets could spike. The player tracking data indicate that Chase has not struggled to get open this year, yet he does not see targets at a high rate in double coverage. For example, Cooper Kupp was double-teamed on 30% of his routes this year, but Matthew Stafford was still feeding him targets in double coverage. Kupp had a 27% target rate when seeing extra defensive attention, which is only slightly less than the 28% target rate he had overall. The difference is much larger for Chase, who has a 17% target rate against double coverage compared to a 24% target rate overall. This probably says more about the Bengals’ offense than about Chase, given that we know Chase is getting open. Normally, Joe Burrow doesn’t have to force the ball to Chase. He has another great downfield receiving option in Higgins. But when Higgins isn’t right, like last week, targets can funnel to Chase in a big way. Chase is coming off a game where he saw 15 targets, with a first-read target on 43% of his routes. If Higgins isn’t at full strength, the Bengals will not mess around; Chase will see all of the volume he can handle as part of an offense that may build its game plan around the pass.

Of course, if Higgins isn’t healthy, the Bengals may not be as interested in a pass-heavy game plan. That would be good news for Joe Mixon, who ran three fewer routes than Samaje Perine against the Browns. Mixon’s playing time was a bit concerning; he had a 58% snap share, with Perine at 43%. But if the Bengals get things going on the ground, Mixon should be fine. He had 14 carries to Perine’s four last week and should have a comfortable lead in share of team attempts. The bigger concern for Mixon is that Perine will cut into his targets. He saw only two targets against the Browns, with Perine stealing three. With the Bengals as 3.5-point favorites, he has enough TD equity to make him a low-end RB1. However, Mixon has been more impressive as a receiver than as a rusher this season. With risk that Perine sees the same receiving usage as last week in a pass-heavy game plan, Mixon profiles as more of a high-end RB2 than an RB1.

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15_bengals_mixon.png

Buccaneers Implied Team Total: 20.5

2001 was the first year I seriously followed the NFL. Growing up in Delaware, I gravitated to the story of Rich Gannon, the former University of Delaware quarterback, who had emerged as a high-end starter in his late 30s and would go on to win the MVP the following season. Gannon’s Raiders finished 10-6 that season and traveled to New England the face the Patriots. (You see where this is going). The Raiders’ promising season ended when this was ruled an incomplete pass.

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I wasn’t exactly cheering along the way as Brady went on to cement his status as the best to ever do it. This is all to say that I did not expect to be defending Brady 20+ years later. But here we are.

But before I defend him... Brady has not played well this season. Age finally (finally) seems to be catching up with him. His missed throws are piling up this season, which last week highlighted.

Brady ranks only 21st in EPA per play and 22nd in CPOE. He’s been perfectly average in terms of efficiency and accuracy this season. Given that we’ve seen heavy contributions from backup quarterbacks this year, average quarterback play is not good.

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But... even though Brady’s play has fallen off considerably from last year, there’s no reason for the Buccaneers’ offense to be quite as bad as it is. The Buccaneers rank 14th in EPA per dropback but are just 21st in EPA per play—because they rank just 31st in EPA per rush. Brady’s play hasn’t been very good, but he’s not being helped out by his offense.

To Todd Bowles’ and Byron Leftwich‘s credit, they abandoned the run against the 49ers. They posted a 9% PROE and a 13% PROE on 1st-and-10. It was a very logical approach against a defense that is extremely strong against the run and in a game script where they were trailing badly. But the Buccaneers’ commitment to the pass has been intermittent. And they have been especially inconsistent on first down. Before Week 14, they had a negative PROE on first down in four consecutive games.

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And it’s not just that the Buccaneers are incorporating a highly inefficient run game—the way they are doing it is also bizarre. The Buccaneers are passing out of the shotgun on 84% of their plays. In the modern NFL, that’s actually not a high-end rate. They rank 12th in shotgun rate this season and are well below the league-leading Cardinals (94%), Eagles (93%), and Bengals (92%). So Brady is under center a fair amount, by today’s standards.

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With that in mind, you might expect a heavy dose of first-down rushing attempts to be setting up a heavy dose of play action passing. Nope. The Buccaneers are going through a lot of trouble to establish the threat of the run. With that threat established... they are doing nothing with it. Brady ranks dead last in play action rate this season.

Play action is not the be-all and end-all of offensive success. Joe Burrow ranks 34th in play action rate this year, and the Bengals are doing just fine. However, the Bengals have also fully committed to the shotgun offense and aggressive pass-heavy game plans. The Bengals have abandoned the run fake, but they are setting their passing game up for success in other ways. The Buccaneers seem afraid to fully commit to the passing game, yet they also refuse to pretend to run the ball. They only run the ball for real. And they do it poorly.

With those trends in mind, this matchup could get the Buccaneers into trouble. The Bengals rank seventh in EPA allowed per dropback and eighth in dropback success rate. They have a very solid pass defense. They are weaker against the run, ranking 22nd in EPA allowed per rush and 20th in rushing success rate. However, the Bengals are not awful against the run. It would make a lot more sense for the Buccaneers to lean into their own strengths rather than playing the matchup, but their play-calling tendencies point in the other direction.

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If the Buccaneers implement a run-first approach this week, it’s hard to see them finding any efficiency, even in a good matchup. Leonard Fournette hasn’t been a disaster in terms of his consistency; he ranks RB28 in success rate. But his ability to generate explosive plays or break tackles has been an abject failure. He ranks just RB47 in breakaway yards per game. Only Cam Akers, Melvin Gordon, and Samaje Perine rank lower.

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However, it’s not like Rachaad White has been any better. He ranks RB35 in RYOE / attempt, and only Kenyan Drake ranks lower in elusive rating.

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Both backs desperately need the Buccaneers to stop handing them the ball and start throwing more. White’s RB16 ranking in YPRR points to some upside as a pass catcher, as does Fournette’s RB18 ranking. Unfortunately, it’s hard to trust the Buccaneers to lean into the pass unless forced into comeback mode by Joe Burrow. With snaps likely to be split again, White and Fournette both profile as risky PPR accumulation plays.

I’ve made it clear that Tom Brady is not being helped out by his coaches. But he also isn’t getting a ton of help from his receivers. Rachaad White is his only receiver with an open score in the 80th percentile or above for his position. And, obviously, being able to get open as a running back is not as valuable as getting open as a wide receiver.

And Brady’s wide receivers have really struggled to get open. Mike Evans ranks 36th percentile, Chris Godwin ranks 27th, Scotty Miller ranks 24th, and Julio Jones ranks second percentile. Only A.J. Green ranks lower in open score than Jones. They came in together... and they’re going out together. Russell Gage has shown a little promise, ranking in the 63rd percentile, and could help the offense if Julio Jones misses the game with a knee injury. However, Gage has route rates of just 33% and 38% over the last two weeks. He may not even be on the field. The inability to get open helps explain why every Buccaneers receiver has posted an unimpressive YPRR this year. Brady’s falloff in play also bears some responsibility.

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15_buccaneers_yprr.png

Chris Godwin and Mike Evans remain WR3 plays, but they are better as volume-based plays. With that in mind, Godwin looks like the more interesting option. He has a 24% target rate to Evans’ 19%. If the Buccaneers are passing heavily from behind, Godwin will be a big part of the action. However, if the Buccaneers are conservative this week, Evans’ 13.9 aDOT gives him a chance to hit big plays even in a low-volume game environment. But both players aren’t exciting options this week.

Giants at Commanders, 8:20 Eastern, Sunday

Giants Implied Team Total: 18

The last time Daniel Jones played the Commanders, it didn’t go great. He ranked 24th in EPA per play despite being highly accurate, with the third-highest CPOE of Week 13. Accuracy has actually been a strength for Jones this season; he ranks seventh in CPOE. However, his efficiency has not been impressive, ranking just 18th in EPA per play. He’s been solid this season, but he could struggle in this rematch.

15_giants_epoa.png

15_giants_epoa.png

There’s a reason why Jones didn’t play very well against the Commanders. Their defense is very strong against both the pass and the run, ranking eighth in EPA allowed per dropback and second in EPA allowed per rush.

15_giants_mu.png

15_giants_mu.png

This is a particularly deadly combination against the Giants, who lean on the run game to keep the chains moving. The Giants have spent a lot of time in game scripts that generally lead to a high volume of passing attempts. But that is not how the Giants have played things. Similarly to the Raiders, Packers, and Saints, the Giants have been fighting against a high expected pass rate. New York ranks 21st in pass rate despite the fifth-highest expected pass rate.

15_giants_epr.png

15_giants_epr.png

This defense is strong enough to punish the Giants for prioritizing the run, which is how they ended up scoring just 20 points in a game that went over time. Fortunately, the Giants will at least have Saquon Barkley closer to full health this week; Barkley has been practicing in full. But Barkley has been unpredictable this season. He ranks just RB33 in success rate and isn’t breaking tackles very well, ranking RB39 in elusive rating. Barkley can still hit impressive plays with the best of them, ranking RB4 in breakaway yards per game. But his explosion has been pretty middling on a per-attempt basis, as evidenced by his RB18 ranking in RYOE / attempt.

15_giants_barkley.png

15_giants_barkley.png

This isn’t the most logical spot for Barkley to have a big game, but his profile kind of defies logic in a sense. The bet with Barkley is for him to rip off a few big runs, so we only need things to conspire in his favor on a couple of plays. And honestly, that can happen in any setting. He remains a high-end RB2 despite the difficult matchup.

The passing game is much less interesting, particularly since targets seem to be spreading out a bit. Over the last three weeks, Darius Slayton has seen target rates of 18%, 21%, and 9%. He still looks like the top option in New York, but Richie James and Isaiah Hodgins are beginning to cut into his target share. Given that it’s the fantasy playoffs, you likely have better options at wide receiver. Although, if James misses the game with a concussion, Slayton has been efficient enough to be interesting.

Daniel Bellinger also looks like an uncertain bet at tight end. The rookie ran a route on only 60% of dropbacks last week due to a ribs injury. If he’s limited at all against the Commanders, it will be a problem. Bellinger has not been impressive on a per-route basis.

15_giants_yprr.png

15_giants_yprr.png

Commanders Implied Team Total: 22.5

Like Daniel Jones, Taylor Heinicke struggled in Week 13. However, there is reason to be optimistic for the Commanders’ quarterback in their rematch with the Giants. Because while Jones will be facing a difficult Commanders defense, Heinicke gets a very vulnerable Giants defense. The Giants rank just 25th in EPA allowed per dropback and rank dead last in PFF’s coverage grades.

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15_commanders_mu.png

Even better, the Giants are also weak against the run, ranking 30th in EPA allowed per rush. This is great news for the Commanders who won’t be looking to feature their quarterback. Things haven’t fallen off the rails with Heinicke at quarterback, but he has not been good. He ranks just 25th in EPA per play. The Commanders’ decision to stick with Heinicke over Carson Wentz says more about Wentz than Heinicke.

15_commanders_epa.png

15_commanders_epa.png

But even though the Commanders are committed to Heinicke as their starter, they are not committed to the passing game. The Commanders have a -5% PROE, which is the 25th highest in the league. They are less run-heavy on first down, with a -3% PROE, but they aren’t quite to the Lions’ level of prioritizing the pass on 1st-and-10. Heinicke has a good chance of being efficient here, but that efficiency would be as a counterpunch to the Commanders’ running game.

15_commanders_proe.png

15_commanders_proe.png

If the Commanders had a single lead back, he would look like a high-end RB2 in this matchup, at the very least. However, the Commanders seem to be unwilling to feed one of their backs. Antonio Gibson led the backfield with a 49% snap share in Week 13, with Brian Robinson at 47%. The week before, Brian Robinson led the way with a 40% snap share. Neither back is showing any explosion on the ground this season. With that in mind, Gibson is the slightly more interesting play, given his efficiency in the passing game.

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15_commanders_gibson.png

In the passing game, Terry McLaurin is clearly the best way to bet on an efficient day from Heinicke. Although the rookie got in the end zone last week, Jahan Dotson‘s expected volume has not been impressive this season, and he’s underperforming it to boot. McLaurin has a much more impressive 1.89 expected YPRR and is performing slightly above expectations. Moreover, his 13.3 aDOT gives him the opportunity for big plays, which is important on a team that generally limits passing volume.

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15_commander_yprr.png

Rams at Packers, 8:15 PM Eastern, Monday

Rams Implied Team Total: 23.25

Baker Mayfield‘s first game with the Rams was a fun ride. And while he was ultimately bailed out by a few penalties, Mayfield played pretty well. He ranked 12th in EPA per play, turning in his second-most efficient performance of the season.

15_rams_epa.png

15_rams_epa.png

But Mayfield was still concerningly inaccurate, ranking 20th in CPOE. Accuracy has been a problem for Mayfield all season, ranking dead last in CPOE. So it’s hard to get too excited about Mayfield moving forward. And odds are the Rams have also kept things in perspective. They are facing a Packers defense that ranks just 31st in EPA allowed per rush and 32nd in success rate. So rather than leaning on their new starting quarterback, they are likely to lean heavily on the run and attack the Packers where they are the weakest.

15_rams_mu.png

15_rams_mu.png

Unfortunately, even in a good matchup, it’s tough to know what we will get from the Rams backfield. Three weeks ago, Kyren Williams played 71% of snaps. The following week, Cam Akers played 72% of snaps. Last week we had a three-way split, with Akers seeing 42% of snaps, Williams 30%, and Malcolm Brown 28%. Akers looks like the best bet for playing time but given how bad he’s been the season, that does not make him a good bet for fantasy.

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15_rams_akers.png

And while seeing Mayfield lead the Rams to a win was fun, I don’t recommend betting on any of his wide receivers this week. Van Jefferson led the team with 100% route participation against the Raiders, with Ben Skowronek at 90% and Tutu Atwell at 63%. But Atwell had by far the highest target rate (35%), with Skowronek at 22% and Jefferson at just 10%.

Atwell has been kind of a target magnet when on the field, with an elite 27% target rate on an ultradeep 21.7 aDOT. He’s way too thin for playoff fantasy lineups, but have at it, showdown sickos.

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15_rams_yprr.png

For actual fantasy lineups, Tyler Higbee is the only viable option. He ran a route on 73% of dropbacks against the Raiders but saw just three targets. Are we sure we need the tight end position in fantasy?

Packers Implied Team Total: 23.25

The Packers are not the team we thought they were going to be. Aaron Rodgers has fallen off dramatically without Davante Adams, ranking just 23rd in EPA per play and 19th in CPOE. He’s been fancy Mitch Trubisky.

15_packers_epa.png

15_packers_epa.png

To be fair, Rodgers’ play has improved over his last four games. But even over that span, he hasn’t been great, ranking 13th in EPA per play, just behind Ryan Tannehill. And while Rodgers’ play is improving somewhat, the Packers’ offense of approach has not shifted. They remain a thoroughly run-heavy team. The Packers have a -4% PROE this season and a -7% PROE on 1st-and-10. They have been more run-heavy than the 49ers.

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15_packers_proe.png

And this offensive approach isn’t a relic from their early-mid season struggles. If anything, the Packers are moving toward the run. They have posted a PROE of -5% or below in each of their last four games. If you’re hoping for a more aggressive Packers offense, it’s definitely a concern to see that Rodgers’ improved play has coincided with this approach. This makes it less likely the Packers will shift toward the pass out of their bye week.

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15_packers_proe_trend.png

But this matchup will reveal just how committed to the bit the Packers are. The Rams rank sixth in EPA allowed per rush, third in rushing success rate, and first in PFF’s run defense grades. Going run-heavy against them is essentially the only way to lose to the Rams.

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15_packers_mu.png

Only the Falcons (-11%), Cowboys (-16%), Panthers (-16%), and Raiders (-20%) have had a PROE of -4% or lower against the Rams. All but the Cowboys lost the game. The Cardinals have the dishonor of being the only team to lose to the Rams without shooting themselves in the foot with a run-heavy game plan.

And to be honest, the Packers could blow it here. They have repeatedly been overly conservative in spots that call for aggressive play-calling. That’s how they’ve managed to lose so many middling teams. They also have a history of conservative play that dates back well before this season. Granted, the Rams are worse than middling, but I have faith in Matt LaFleur to make this closer than it should be.

But even if the Packers turn in another frustrating performance, we should have volume in the backfield. That will be welcome, especially since Aaron Jones could see limited snaps as he returns from an ankle injury. Jones has been efficient enough to make some noise in this matchup as long as he gets enough opportunities. Jones has been very consistent this season, ranking RB5 in success rate. He’s also run well overall, ranking RB14 in RYOE / attempt. And the nice thing about Jones’ profile is that if the Packers attack this matchup through the air... all the better. Jones ranks RB6 in target share and RB14 in YPRR. He’s a high-end RB2, as a bet that the Packers lean into the matchup.

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15_packers_jones.png

And the Packers really should lean into this matchup. It’s not just that the Rams are strong against the run; they are weak against the pass. Rodgers should have no trouble turning in an efficient day against a Rams defense that ranks 28th in allowed EPA allowed per dropback. That’s especially true, given that he finally has some playmaking ability in the receiving game.

Christian Watson has emerged as the clear top option in the Packers’ passing game, with a strong 23% target rate and an elite 2.30 YPRR. Obviously, he’s scoring touchdowns at will. But even just looking at his ability to draw targets and generate yards, he looks like a star. The touchdowns are a bonus. And teams are treating Watson as the Packers’ top receiver; he’s been double-teamed on 24% of his routes compared to just 18% for Allen Lazard. Watson hasn’t run as many routes as Lazard this season, but Lazard’s lead in route participation has been completely obliterated recently. Watson ran a route on 94% of dropbacks in Week 13, with Lazard at 97%.

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15_packers_comp.png

Romeo Doubs will return to the lineup this week, which could shake things up. But I do not expect the Packers’ unimpressive Day 3 pick to interrupt the breakout of their second-round pick. Doubs has definitely exceeded his draft day expectations and earned playing time quickly. But he has not been very good when on the field, delivering a very poor 1.24 YPRR. He also ranks just 40th percentile in ESPN’s open score. And that’s with defenses rarely giving him extra attention; he ranks just 20th percentile in double coverage rate. Watson can be started with confidence. Even if the Packers play conservatively, his 14.6 aDOT sets him up to continue delivering big plays downfield.

Sources

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.
  • Completion Percentage Over Expected
  • 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
    • Third down and Red Zone Snaps from Sam Hoppen’s Player Stat Explorer at 4for4.com
  • 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
  • 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.
  • 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.