I’m going to unceremoniously ditch the concept of this article for Week 18. That’s right: There will be no ceremony. Instead, we’re going to focus our energies -- and our DFS tournament roster building -- on teams that have something to play for in Week 18 and potential low-cost run-back options in those contests.
I’ve worked pass/run funnel analysis into the article where I felt appropriate, though this is the wrong week to get caught up with how defenses are being attacked. Are we playing the best plays? As much as it pains me, yes, sort of.
Things will change in the coming 48 hours. News and practice reports and practice squad call-ups will offer more clarity as to who will play and who won’t in Week 18. But I’ll try my best to write about games and scenarios that seem relatively certain as of Thursday morning.
Cowboys (-7) at Commanders
Cowboys implied total: 24
Commanders implied total: 17
It would seem Vegas oddsmakers are not expecting Dallas starters to play a full 60 minutes against Washington’s second team. I think it’s a tad presumptuous to tap Dak Prescott and the Cowboys starters for two or three quarters, and would assume they get most of the game unless it is massively lopsided in the second half.
Last year, if you’ll recall, the Cowboys trounced the Eagles 51-26 in a similar Week 18 scenario. Prescott threw for 295 yards and five scores that day and Ezekiel Elliott saw 18 carries. This should put into play a Dallas onslaught lineup of Prescott, CeeDee Lamb, Dalton Schultz and either Zeke or Tony Pollard, who is practicing this week after missing Week 17 with a thigh issue.
Washington could be down several key defenders in this game. Perhaps that changes how Dallas will attack the Commanders. If it doesn’t, Dak and company will face the league’s sixth most extreme pass funnel defense that has been stout against the run all season. Only seven teams give up a lower EPA per rush than the Commanders, and no one allows a lower rate of positive running plays. That could lead to a scenario much like we saw in Week 17 against the Titans, with the Cowboys leaning hard into the pass. Tennessee, like Washington, is a massive pass funnel.
It appears Sam Howell will get the Week 18 start against the Cowboys’ ferocious pass rush after Taylor Heinicke ceded the inconsequential game to the rookie. It’s a real galaxy brain move, but Howell with one Washington pass catcher alongside a Dallas onslaught would make sense if we think the Commanders are going to furiously chase points from start to finish.
Howell comes with some rushing appeal, perhaps making him playable without a stacking partner (it remains to be seen if the Commanders’ starting wideouts will play). He ran for 93 yards and two touchdowns in three preseason games last summer. During his breakout 2020 campaign at North Carolina, Howell averaged 27 rush yards per game. The Cowboys, meanwhile, have given up hefty rushing outputs to Daniel Jones and Justin Fields this season. It makes you think.
Antonio Gibson on injured reserve and Brian Robinson not practicing this week with a knee injury should mean JoNathan Williams takes over as the Commanders’ lead back. Jaret Patterson is the only other back on the current roster; it could be quite the workload for Williams.
Game Stack Ideas
Prescott, Lamb, Schultz, Pollard or Elliott, Williams
Prescott, Lamb, Schultz, Dotson or McLaurin
Howell, Lamb, Elliott or Pollard
Howell, McLaurin or Dotson, Lamb, Pollard or Elliott
49ers (-14) at Cardinals
49ers implied total: 27.25
Cardinals implied total: 13.25
One thing is for absolute certain: The Niners are going to score and score a lot in this one. They need to win here. Arizona’s defense has morphed into what we in the industry call an everything-funnel. Opponents can do whatever they want against the stunningly down-bad Cardinals.
That, of course, includes against the rush. Only seven teams have allowed a higher rush EPA than the Cardinals since Week 10. My sources tell me Kyle Shanahan and the Niners enjoy establishing the run and will do so at any and every opportunity. Obviously that makes Christian McCaffrey a superb Week 18 option who could draw unholy amounts of DFS rostership. In case you aren’t convinced of CMC’s mind-numbing Week 18 ceiling, the Cardinals are second in the NFL in running back receptions allowed (97), giving up 7.2 RB targets per game.
Jordan Mason or Tyrion Davis-Price, who both saw a mere five snaps in Week 17 against Vegas, could be sneaky if this game gets out of control and the 49ers bleed to clock with a big lead in the second half.
But wait, there’s more. Arizona is the league’s second most extreme pass funnel defense. No one allows a higher rate of positive pass plays than the Cards.
Brandon Aiyuk is a natural stacking partner with Brock Purdy if you believe the 49ers will blow by their inflated Week 18 implied total. Aiyuk over the past three weeks (with Deebo Samuel sidelined) has led the team with a 29 percent target share and a 38 percent air yards share. Aiyuk’s weighted opportunity rating -- combination of air yards and targets -- is 11th among all pass catchers since Week 15.
Samuel’s absence has narrowed the team’s low-volume passing attack so that both Aiyuk and George Kittle can get there for fantasy purposes. Combine their target shares over the past three games and you get 55 percent of Purdy’s attempts. Kittle and Aiyuk have accounted for two thirds of the team’s air yards with Samuel out. A full blown Niners stack might be in order.
Empires rise and fall, oceans swell and recede, Arizona quarterbacks come and go, and one thing remains constant: All Cardinals signal callers are Dortchpilled. In Week 17 against Atlanta, Dortch saw ten targets from David Blough, catching four for 17 yards. Dortch’s 26 percent target share matched Trey McBride for the team lead against the Falcons. Either guy is viable as a run-back option if you’re going all in on San Francisco. Dortch has 31 targets over his past three starts. He could be The Guy You Need in Week 18.
Marquise Brown would make some sense as the Cardinals’ lone downfield option. He had 121 air yards (a 33 percent share) last week against the Falcons on his way to six grabs for 61 yards. Blough under center means there’s no conceivable reason we should use more than one Cardinals pass catcher in Week 18 lineups.
Game Stacking Ideas
Purdy, Kittle, Aiyuk, Dortch or McBride
McCaffrey, Aiyuk or Kittle, Dortch or McBride or Brown