The clock reads 2:10 a.m. You decide to roll out of bed because you’ve been laying there with something on your mind for the last 20 minutes. No, I’m not talking about trying to fall asleep. I’m talking about life as a football writer.
I was working on my laptop last night until the battery indicator told me it was about closing time. It was 9:10 p.m. at that point, so I went and plugged it in, contemplating whether I was through for the night. Surely enough, my wife walked into the living room and asked, “Are you done working?” She had a pleased look on her face, one that suggested I really should be so that we can watch a TV show and drift off to bed.
I gave into her “suggestion” and figured by the time my computer was charged enough to start writing again, it would be past 10:00 and I’ve never been extremely creative at night. On top of that, my wheels start spinning and my brain won’t shut off, which means I can’t go to bed right away. I told her that I’ll just get up a bit early tomorrow because I still had work I needed to get done.
This is the part where you tell me I’m crazy. Instead of going with my default alarm that I have set for 5:00 a.m. Sunday through Thursday, I went in and changed it to 4:00. As we laid there in bed, I told her that I was really hoping that I’d just wake up at 3:45 and have to use the washroom because I love waking up naturally. Once I get out of bed, I rarely return.
The next bit of consciousness I had, I rolled onto my side and slivered my eye open to see the clock. You guessed it. My body decided it was time to go at 1:51 a.m. I tell myself that this is stupid and that I need to go back to sleep. If I get up to walk the 15 steps it takes to go to the bathroom, it’s game over, I’m not going back to sleep. Instead of just shutting my brain back off, it starts running through the games that I still need to cover, the news that’s come out about injuries that affects certain players, which in turn means I need to go back and re-write a player’s outlook. I have a meeting with my boss that I should really prepare for. I remember that I’ve committed to be a guest on a podcast and that it was supposed to happen today. What time was that again?
The funny part about all of it is that I remember when I used to have my other career in finance, I was driving about 30-35 minutes to work and then another 30-35 minutes back, thinking to myself, “Man, if I worked from home, I could use this time spent driving to and from work to do another full hour of football research.” Once I started writing and talking about football full-time, those thoughts are gone. There’s always another hour you can find to do some research. There’s always something else you can learn. I guess it’s a good thing for me that I still love what I do, and that my body still tells me to get up and do it. It’s the fantasy playoffs. Let’s get to work.
MIN at TB | ARI at NYG | KC at MIA | TEN at JAC | DAL at CIN | HOU at CHI | DEN at CAR | NYJ at SEA | IND at LV | WAS at SF | NO at PHI | ATL at LAC | GB at DET | PIT at BUF | BAL at CLE
So, what does The Primer offer? Anything you could ever want. Seriously, it’ll have wide receiver/cornerback matchups, recent history against each team, comparable player performances, unique stats, and most importantly, how they should be played that particular week. The idea here is to give you as much information and confidence as possible when you hit that ‘Submit Lineup’ button each week.
On top of all that, I’ll come back by Saturday morning to update once practice participation reports are posted. Still want more? We’ll be doing a livestream on our YouTube channel every Sunday morning from 11-12 EST, breaking down the inactives and letting you know which players benefit the most from them.
Minnesota Vikings at Tampa Bay Buccaneers
Spread: Buccaneers -6.5
Vikings at Buccaneers Betting Matchup
Kirk Cousins: We thought Cousins might throw the ball more versus the Jaguars due to Dalvin Cook trying to play through an injury and no Alexander Mattison, and he did, though it had more to do with the gamescript than anything. The Vikings needed more than 60 minutes to beat the one-win Jaguars, and though Cousins wasn’t on his A-game, fantasy managers will take the 305 yards and three touchdowns, though. Cousins has now topped 21.4 fantasy points in three straight games and has reached 17.6 fantasy points in five straight. You’d probably be shocked to find out that Cousins averages the third-most fantasy points per actual pass attempt, behind only Aaron Rodgers and Patrick Mahomes. The matchup against the Bucs isn’t as bad as some think. Well, for quarterbacks it’s not. You’d have to go back to Week 6 to find the last time they didn’t allow a quarterback at least two passing touchdowns. Sure, they allowed Patrick Mahomes 462 yards and three touchdowns in Week 12, but the week before that it was Jared Goff throwing for 376 yards and three touchdowns. It has taken quarterbacks plenty of attempts against the Bucs to get it done, but the volume is one of the main reasons to like Cousins here. The Bucs have faced 37.8 pass attempts per game this year, and that’s because they’ve been so incredibly good against the run. They’ve also allowed a robust 69.8 percent completion-rate (2nd-highest in NFL) while Cousins has completed 67.8 percent of his passes. There have been just seven games all year Cousins has thrown the ball more than 26 times. He’s scored at least 17.6 fantasy points in six of those games. The lone concern about this matchup for Cousins is the pressure the Bucs bring, as they average the fourth-highest pressure rate. Cousins goes from a 117.6 QB Rating while in a clean pocket (6th in NFL), to a 79.0 QB Rating under pressure (14th). We saw a similar gap to his rating in 2019, so it’s not a fluke. Knowing the Vikings won’t have their way on the ground like they typically do, Cousins should be in the low-end QB1/high-end QB2 conversation and come with a decent floor for a pocket passer.
Tom Brady: The bye week seemingly came at the right time for Brady, whose team has now lost three of their last four games, including each of their last two. The defense hasn’t played well, but Brady hasn’t helped them out at all, throwing seven interceptions in those four games. Still, for fantasy purposes, he went into his bye week as the No. 7 quarterback and has thrown at least two touchdowns in six of his last seven games. The Bucs have been extremely willing to just let him drop back and throw the ball a ton, which is highlighted by his 41.8 pass attempts per game over the last six games. The Bucs offense has averaged 1.58 PPR points per offensive play this year, which ranks second to only the Packers. They now get to go against a Vikings defense that’s struggled through the air. They’ve allowed the eighth-most fantasy points through the air alone to quarterbacks, which sounds a lot better than the 15th-most fantasy points they’ve allowed to the position in general. Even breaking it down to a fantasy points per pass attempt stat, they’ve allowed the eighth-most points per actual pass attempt. There have been six quarterbacks who finished with 18.6-plus fantasy points against them, while six have finished with fewer than 13.9 fantasy points. Here are the groups:
|Over 18.8||Under 13.9|
|Matt Ryan||Teddy Bridgewater|
|Aaron Rodgers||Mike Glennon|
|Aaron Rodgers||Ryan Tannehill|
|Russell Wilson||Philip Rivers|
|Deshaun Watson||Matthew Stafford (hurt)|
|Andy Dalton||Nick Foles|
You go ahead and tell me which side you think Brady falls on. It’s worth noting that both Tannehill and Rivers were back in Weeks 2 and 3, so that was while they still had Yannick Ngakoue on the team. The Vikings rank as the fourth-worst team in the league when it comes to average pressure rate, which is a great thing for Brady, who has posted a 109.0 QB Rating from a clean pocket, which is much higher than the 49.0 QB Rating he has while under pressure. Brady should be trusted as a QB1 this week.
Dalvin Cook: So much for limiting the amount of work that Cook gets moving forward, eh? They were without Alexander Mattison last week, but still, Cook racked up a career-high 38 touches against the Jaguars. He wasn’t as effective as he usually is, totaling just 3.8 yards per carry and failing to find the end zone. Still, that volume carried him to 23.9 PPR points. He may have been the fantasy MVP to this point, but you shouldn’t be expecting him to carry your fantasy team this week. On the year, the Bucs have allowed 614 rushing yards to running backs. They’ve played 75 percent of the season and they’ve allowed 614 yards. That’s crazy. It amounts to just 51.2 rushing yards per game, easily the lowest in the NFL. Teams have chosen to run the ball against the Bucs just 35.6 percent of the time, which is the second-lowest mark in the league, but it’s for good reason. They’ve allowed just 3.02 yards per carry on the year, which is the exact same number they allowed last year. Of the 73.8 PPR points per game the Bucs allow to skill-position players, running backs account for just 26.8 percent of it, which is the fourth-lowest mark in the league. It’s clear that this defense is the best in the league at stopping the run. This is crazy but there’s been no running back who’s totaled more than 59 yards on the ground against them. Teams of running backs have averaged a ridiculously-low 16.9 carries per game against them. They have, however, allowed five running backs finish as top-15 running backs this year, so it’s not a must-avoid or anything. Seven running backs have been able to haul in four-plus passes (the 73 receptions they’ve allowed to running backs is the third-most in the league), which is where we should be expecting Cook to get his floor from, but he’s going to need a touchdown to get into top-12 territory. You’re playing him in season-long no matter what, but he’s not someone you should be attacking in DFS this week.
Ronald Jones and Leonard Fournette: After the Bucs got buried by the Chiefs, Bruce Arians came out and said that Jones’ 20 total touches over their last two games is horrible and that he should reach that number on a weekly basis. We’ve heard fluff out of Arians before, but this statement makes tons of sense considering Jones has been so much better than most realize. Based on the number of defenders there are in the box, how close defenders get to him, and how many yards before contact he’s been given, Jones is averaging 1.19 yards per carry over expectations (per NFL NextGenStats), which is massive. In fact, there’s just one running back (Nick Chubb) who has posted a better number than him. Meanwhile, Fournette is at -0.12 yards per carry below expectations. Despite facing a pretty large number of touches (342), the Vikings have allowed just eight total touchdowns to running backs this year. It’s not due to lack of trying, either, as they’ve faced 34 goal-to-go touches by running backs (tied for most in NFL). When the Bucs get down into the red zone, it’s likely they’ll throw against a team that’s allowed a 5.5 percent touchdown-rate through the air, but it’s important to remember that the Bucs have a massive 29.5-point team-implied total, so there should be multiple opportunities. There have been plenty of touches available against the Vikings, as running backs have racked up 23.1 carries per game against them to go along with 5.4 receptions per game. It also helps to know that Jones is coming off a much-needed bye week and fresh as can be while the Vikings have been grinding through the weeks (had their bye back in Week 7). The 4.36 yards per carry they’ve allowed is right around the league average, so touchdowns are the only thing running backs have been lacking on the ground. We’re taking Arians at his word, but Jones has the looks of a solid RB2 this week. Fournette’s role isn’t nearly as valuable in this game, as the Vikings have allowed just 4.85 yards per target, which is the seventh-lowest mark in the league. He’s more of an RB4 who’d be the main beneficiary if the Vikings jumped out to a lead.
Adam Thielen: While Justin Jefferson may have stolen the show against the Jaguars, Thielen was no slouch in his return to the lineup, racking up 11 targets, eight receptions, 75 yards, and a touchdown. In the six games that Kirk Cousins has thrown more than 26 times this year, Thielen has benefited in a big way.
|Cousins >26 att||6||8.6||66.7||1.5||21.6|
|Cousins <26 att||5||7.0||64.0||0.6||14.9|
The Bucs may stop running backs in their tracks, but wide receivers have fared much better. They’ve allowed 17 different wide receivers to finish as top-40 options against them, including eight receivers who scored 19-plus PPR points. The Vikings receivers aren’t used to seeing a ton of volume, but the Bucs have faced 21.6 wide receiver targets per game, a number that is welcomed by Thielen and Jefferson, who average a combined 13.5 targets per game. The Bucs typically have Carlton Davis shadow opposing No. 1 receivers, which is the role of Thielen, but is Jefferson respected enough to the point where they don’t shadow Thielen? Even if Davis does shadow, it might not be a bad thing, as he’s really been struggling the last four games. Everyone knows what Tyreek Hill did to him (Davis allowed 12/236/3 in his coverage) in Week 12, but even the three prior weeks, Davis had allowed 14-of-18 passing for 214 yards in his coverage. Knowing the Vikings will pass more than normal, you should have low-end WR1-type expectations for Thielen this week.
Justin Jefferson: He’s entered full-blown breakout mode, and if it weren’t for Thielen being Cousins’ favorite target in the red zone, Jefferson would be the wide receiver you’d prefer of this duo. He’s averaged 103.0 yards over the last four games, including three games with double-digit targets. Here’s a fun stat from Tristan Cockcroft of ESPN: Jefferson has more fantasy points through the first 12 games of his career than any wide receiver not named Randy Moss. We’ve watched four wide receivers finish as top-15 options against the Bucs over their last three games. The concerns we’ve had with Jefferson this year haven’t been talent but rather volume. The Bucs opponents average 37.8 pass attempts per game, which is much more than the 29.1 the Vikings have averaged. Considering the Vikings have targeted their wide receivers almost 60 percent of the time, this could mean another 5-6 targets between them, and that’s massive for someone like Jefferson. We know Jefferson is efficient, and so have receivers when targeted against the Bucs, as they’ve allowed 1.87 PPR points per target, which is the 10th-highest number in the league. If the Bucs have Carlton Davis shadow Thielen, it would leave Jefferson with Jamel Dean, who’s been pretty solid in coverage, though he’s never been tasked with a No. 1 wide receiver (Dean has been ruled doubtful, which is an upgrade for Jefferson). While Thielen is the No. 1 for the Vikings, Jefferson isn’t too far behind. In a game we know the Vikings will throw more than they typically do, Jefferson should be in lineups as a high-end WR2 with a higher floor than he’s offered in the past.
Mike Evans: After averaging 5.8 targets per game over their first nine games, it appears the Bucs have made a conscious effort to get Evans the ball over the last three weeks, as he’s averaged 9.7 targets per game in that time. They continue trying to work him into the slot to create mismatches, and it’s worked, as he’s complied four touchdowns over the last three games. What a time for the Vikings to come to town, as they’ve allowed 19 receiving touchdowns to wide receivers this year, which is the second-highest mark in the league. In fact, only them and the Cowboys have allowed more than 16 of them. Evans has played all over the formation this year, including 40 percent of his snaps in the slot, so there’s not one cornerback he’ll see more of against the Vikings. What we do know is that they’ve allowed the fourth-most PPR points per game to receivers, including a massive 2.00 PPR points per target. With the Bucs having a team-implied total of 29.5 points, Evans should have a great shot at hitting paydirt. You should have him in lineups as a high-end WR2 with top-five upside in this game should he be Brady’s favorite target. *Update* Evans has missed some practice time this week with a hamstring injury, which has clouded his status. He returned to a full practice on Friday, so he’ll play.
Chris Godwin: He’s been the consistent one in this offense, while Mike Evans and Ronald Jones have their ups and downs. Godwin has seen in-between 6-10 targets in every game and has finished in-between 5-9 receptions in seven of them. He’s still yet to have a 100-yard or multi-touchdown game, which means he hasn’t lived up to his second-round ADP this year. Even if he were to have played all 16 games, his pace would be 98 receptions, 1,124 yards, and six touchdowns. Not great, but not bad. To be clear, those are solid WR2 numbers. The Vikings secondary has been abused all year long and wide receivers have reaped the benefits, averaging 2.00 PPR points per target, which is the second-highest mark in the NFL behind only the Cowboys. There have been nine wide receivers who’ve posted WR16 or better numbers against the Vikings but just one of them was a slot-heavy wide receiver. Rookie Jeff Gladney has covered the slot, allowing 33-of-51 passing for 378 yards, which isn’t bad at all, but he has allowed five touchdowns on those targets. It should be noted that Gladney did have to leave the game against the Jaguars last week with a calf injury. Unfortunately, Godwin has seen just six targets inside the 20-yard-line this year, while Evans has seen 17 of them and Gronkowski has 10 of them. Godwin is still someone you’re playing as a WR2, but this matchup might favor Evans a bit more.
Antonio Brown: His escalation in targets finally came to a halt in Week 12, seeing just three targets against the Chiefs. He’s still seen a solid 17.5 target share, which is more than most would’ve expected given his year-plus absence from the game. The target totals since he joined the lineup are Evans 35, Godwin 31, Brown 29. He’s certainly getting enough work to garner consideration in fantasy lineups. The Vikings are one of the four teams in the NFL who’ve allowed 42-plus PPR points per game to wide receivers. That’s allowed 22 different wide receivers to finish with double-digit PPR points, so there’s plenty of room for multiple wide receivers to produce here. Brown has played 85 percent of his snaps on the perimeter, which is actually a good thing in this matchup, as that’s where the Vikings have struggled most. He’ll see a lot of rookie Cam Dantzler and Kris Boyd, who’ve combined to allow 59-of-86 passing for 745 yards and five touchdowns in their coverage. Brown hasn’t lived up to his reputation just yet, but this could be the matchup he does, which makes him worthy of a WR3 start this week.
Kyle Rudolph and Irv Smith: Well, everything we could’ve possibly wanted to go Rudolph’s way last week did, except the production. Smith was out of the lineup and Cousins threw the ball 43 times, which should’ve been more than enough to produce against the horrendous Jaguars defense, but he saw just two targets that netted exactly zero yards. The tight ends on the Vikings as a whole see just an 18.2 percent target share, which is what most streamer-worthy tight ends average themselves. The Bucs haven’t been a team to avoid with tight ends, as they’ve allowed a 69.7 percent completion rate, 7.0 yards per target, and a touchdown every 14.8 targets to them. That’s amounted to a solid 1.80 PPR points per target. But going back to the theme of teams throwing more against the Bucs, that’s led to them allowing nine different tight ends finish as TE14 of better. This all comes back to the availability of Smith because if they both play, it’s not a situation you want to trust. If Smith were to miss another game, Rudolph would be in the high-end TE2 conversation despite his lackluster performance in Week 13. *Update* Oddly enough, it’s been Rudolph who’s missed some practice time this week. It’s probably best to avoid these tight ends until we know they’re healthy. Rudolph is now listed as doubtful while Smith is questionable but expected to play.
Rob Gronkowski: We figured Gronkowski’s targets would take a hit with Antonio Brown in the lineup, but that hasn’t really happened too much. He’s totaled at least six targets in three of the four games with Brown and finished with a season-high six receptions for 106 yards in their last game. From Week 3 through Week 12, Gronkowski was the No. 3 tight end in fantasy. The Vikings haven’t seen tons of volume directed at tight ends (just 6.5 targets per game), but when they have, they’ve allowed a league-high 8.63 yards per target to them. Each of the six tight ends who’ve seen more than four targets against the Vikings has finished with 10.5-plus PPR points, including Tyler Eifert last week. Gronkowski himself has seen more than four targets in seven of his last 10 games, so there’s a good chance he gets there, though the wide receivers have amazing matchups as well, so there’s a chance he gets the short end of the stick this week. Still, it makes sense to plug him in as a middling TE1 who has an above-average matchup from an efficiency standpoint.
Arizona Cardinals at New York Giants
Spread: Cardinals -2.5
Cardinals at Giants Betting Matchup
Kyler Murray: We’ve seemingly lost the insane rushing totals that Murray was bringing to the table, which is problematic. If you look at strictly passing among quarterbacks, Murray ranks 20th in fantasy points per actual pass attempt, behind guys like Mitch Trubisky and Tua Tagovailoa. He was practicing in full last week, so the hope has to be that his shoulder is healed, but he just didn’t run the ball much against the Rams. But there’s no denying something is going on with Murray, as he’s totaled just five rushing attempts in each of the three games following the injury, compared to averaging 9.7 rushing attempts in the first nine games. But again, the two things that have made Murray who he is this year are touchdowns and rushing yards. The Giants have allowed a passing touchdown on just 3.70 percent of pass attempts, which ranks as the fourth-lowest number in football. They’ve also allowed just 107 rushing yards to quarterbacks this year, which ranks as the third-lowest number in the league. You have to go all the way back to Week 1 to find the last time the Giants allowed more than two passing touchdowns. Many were shocked by the Giants holding Russell Wilson in check last week, and while I was one of them, I knew they’ve been a below-average matchup. These two teams are polar opposes in terms of pace, as the Cardinals rank fourth in total plays per game, while the Giants’ games net the sixth-fewest plays per game. With the total on this game sitting at just 45.5, oddsmakers see it as one of the slower-paced/lower-scoring games, as the Cardinals are projected for just 24.0 points. If Murray starts running again, we’ll raise expectations, but for now, we should be a bit skeptical and value him as a mid-to-low-end QB1.
Daniel Jones: After sitting out against the Seahawks, the Giants are hopeful to get him back under center this week, though there’s no guarantee. When you have a potentially less-mobile Jones under center, it’s not a good thing. If you were to remove the rushing totals from existence, Jones has been one of the least efficient passers in the league, averaging just 0.322 fantasy points per attempt, which is ahead of only Alex Smith and Sam Darnold. The Cardinals have allowed the fourth-most rushing yards (316) to quarterbacks this year but considering Jones’ hamstring is still likely to limit his mobility, we can’t really value that. If you look at strictly passing, the Cardinals have allowed the eighth-fewest fantasy points per actual pass attempt. They’ve allowed just one quarterback (Russell Wilson) to throw for more than two touchdowns against them this year, while allowing just 6.90 yards per attempt. Even if Jones were healthy, this would be a questionable game to stream him, but with your fantasy life as stake, you don’t want to trust him.
Kenyan Drake and Chase Edmonds: We’ve been seeing more and more Drake in the Cardinals offense since he returned from injury, as he’s totaled 72 opportunities over the last four games while Edmonds is sitting at 40 of them, making this a 65/35 split between the two with Drake getting almost all of the goal-line work. Drake has been getting much more work in the passing game as of late (12 targets the last three games, had just 11 through the first eight games), which is big news because running backs have generated a league-high 74 receptions against the Giants, which has led to a league-high 622 receiving yards. Knowing that, it should come as no surprise that they’ve allowed 13.4 PPR points per game through the air alone, which is the most any team has allowed to running backs. They haven’t been as giving on the ground to running backs, allowing a pedestrian 4.24 yards per carry and a touchdown every 32.6 carries, which are both below the league average. All year, there have been just four running backs who’ve totaled more than 65 yards on the ground against them, and each of those running backs totaled 15-plus carries. Drake has hit that mark in 7-of-11 games, which is funny because Drake has finished with 60-plus rushing yards in each of those games, while finishing with less than 50 rushing yards in the other four games. The Giants have only faced 19.0 carries per game this year, which is the fourth-fewest in football, which is where the problem lies in a 65/35 timeshare. With the Cardinals being favored, we should expect a few more carries for their running backs, so the betting line for Drake carries should be close to 14-15 of them. He should be considered a low-end RB2 who has been more valuable with Murray not running as much around the goal-line. Edmonds has a bigger role in the passing game, as he’s run 87 routes over the last four games while Drake has run 54 of them, and that carries value in this game. Edmonds should be considered a low-end RB3/high-end RB4 whose floor has been better than most backups.
Wayne Gallman: I’m not sure if there’s been a more underappreciated running back than Gallman this year. Despite having what might have been the toughest schedule since Week 7, Gallman has finished as a top-18 running back in all six games. That includes two matchups with the Eagles, one with the Bucs, and one with Washington. He’s coming off a season-high 135 rushing yards against the Seahawks, a team that had allowed just one running back to top 65 rushing yards all season. The Giants offensive line has been much better than most realize, as they’ve given their running backs the fourth-most yards before contact. When you add in the fact that the Cardinals are allowing the third-most yards before contact to ball carriers, it’s a great match for Gallman. They weren’t bad against running backs earlier in the year, but since losing interior lineman Corey Peters before Week 11, they’ve allowed 306 yards on 67 carries (4.57 yards per carry) with five rushing touchdowns. When running backs get targeted against the Cardinals, it also nets fantasy points, as they’ve allowed the fifth-most yards per target (6.48) to them. We’re at the point where Gallman is an auto-start high-end RB2 and this matchup does nothing to scare you.
DeAndre Hopkins: He had what I’d consider a great performance against the Rams last week, turning 13 targets into 8/52/1. He wasn’t a top-12 receiver, but we talked about keeping expectations in check for that game. He hasn’t topped 55 yards in any of the three games since Kyler Murray‘s injury, which is obviously worrisome, and now gets a date with James Bradberry, who’s fresh off a game where he held D.K. Metcalf to five catches for 80 scoreless yards. While Bradberry isn’t someone you need to run away from, you do want to temper expectations again. He’s done a great job shadowing for them and has limited some very good receivers this year. In his coverage – while shadowing No. 1 wide receivers – he’s allowed just 37-of-67 passing for 405 yards and three touchdowns. If you remove his first game with the team back in Week 1, he’s allowed just 33-of-60 passing for 335 yards and one touchdown. Crazy, right? Football Outsiders ranks the Giants as the No. 7 team in DVOA against No. 1 wide receivers. JuJu Smith-Schuster has been the only receiver to finish better than WR10 against them this year, and that was back in Week 1, while playing in the slot most of the day. You’re starting Hopkins as you always do, but he’s more of a low-end WR1 in this matchup.
Christian Kirk: Over his last four games, Kirk has totaled just 12 receptions for 98 scoreless yards. That’s not going to get it done. There were a few tough matchups in there, but there were also a few easy ones. The injury to Kyler Murray has seemed to derail everyone’s production, but maybe none more than Kirk, as he was making his waves with big plays this year (three receptions of 49-plus yards). Unfortunately, the Giants haven’t been one of the teams allowing those big plays, as they’ve allowed just 31 pass plays of 20-plus yards this year, which ranks as the fourth-fewest in the NFL. The good news for Kirk is that DeAndre Hopkins will surely be shadowed by James Bradberry, which leaves Kirk with Isaac Yiadom in coverage. He’s the weakest link in their secondary, allowing 27-of-41 passing for 361 yards and four touchdowns in his coverage, which is good for a 126.2 QB Rating. The matchup is great and Kirk should have a bounce-back game, but there is some risk associated with Murray right now, keeping Kirk in WR4 territory despite the plus-matchup.
Sterling Shepard: Despite Colt McCoy throwing the ball just 22 times last week, the streak was kept alive. We’re now at 23 straight games where Shepard has seen at least six targets (removing the one game he left in the second quarter against the Bears). Unfortunately, that didn’t help fantasy managers at all, as McCoy completed just one of those passes for a measly 22 yards, crushing Shepard’s value. Clearly, we want to see Jones back on the field, even if McCoy did give Shepard a 27.2 percent target share. That was the first full game Shepard played this year and finished with fewer than six receptions, so we can’t panic too much. The Cardinals aren’t a team that will shadow Shepard, so he’ll see a mixture of all three cornerbacks. Receivers have averaged just 7.72 yards per target against the Cardinals (ranks 26th), though they have hauled in 69.5 percent of passes, which is the sixth-highest mark in the league. This tells us they’re more of a dink-and-dunk the ball down the field type of defense, which suits Shepard and his tiny 7.7 air yards per target, which is lower than even Golden Tate. According to Football Outsiders, the Cardinals are the 12th-best matchup for short passing, while they’re the second-worst matchup for deep passing, which clearly favors Shepard. There have been 17 wide receivers who’ve finished with double-digit PPR points against them and just two of them did it with fewer than five catches. Shepard is the best play on the Giants this week, but he still comes with risk, keeping him in the high-end WR4 territory.
Darius Slayton: Now that he’s seen two or less targets in three of the last four games, you’re probably not considering Slayton for your lineups, but I wanted to come back and reassure you that you’re not missing anything. We know Slayton is the field stretcher of this offense, which is highlighted by his 12.9-yard average depth of target, which is nearly double that of Sterling Shepard. The Cardinals rank as the No. 2 in DVOA against the deep pass, as they’ve allowed just 32 pass plays of 20-plus yards all season, which is the seventh-fewest. Slayton also rarely goes into the slot, which is where the Cardinals are most susceptible. Can Slayton catch one ball that goes for a 50-yard touchdown? Sure, but this is not a matchup you should be banking on that to happen. He’s nothing more than a hail mary WR5 at this point.
Dan Arnold: “Hey Mike, Arnold has three touchdowns over the last three weeks. I think we should start considering him as a legit option.” I mean, I tend to try to avoid tight ends who have a four-target ceiling, which is where Arnold is. He’s averaging just 2.3 targets per game, has caught more than two passes twice, and has topped 39 yards twice. You’re essentially saying it’s touchdown-or-bust with him. Now, if there is something we can take notice to, it’s that his touchdown production has increased since Murray hurt his shoulder (shorter depth of target, maybe?), but again, he’s caught just four balls over those last three games combined. The Giants have allowed just 1.58 PPR points per target, which is a bottom-10 number in the league, as they’ve allowed just two tight end touchdowns all year. Do you really want to bank your playoff life on that? I don’t.
Evan Engram: We kind of know what we’re getting from Engram most weeks, right? He’s seen five-plus targets in 9-of-12 games this year, including eight-plus targets in seven of them. That’s elite volume. He ranks third among tight ends in targets (84) but 12th in PPR points. His one touchdown catch this year is dragging him down, as he has the sixth-most receptions (48) and fifth-most yards (508). The Cardinals are unfortunately not the greatest matchup for tight ends this year, as they’ve allowed the fifth-fewest PPR points per target (1.52) to them. The good news for Engram is that they allow a 67.5 percent catch-rate. Even if they allow a measly 9.25 yards per reception (second-lowest), that’s essentially what Engram is built for in this Giants offense. There have been eight tight ends who’ve caught three-plus passes against the Cardinals, but none have caught more than six. There have been six tight ends who’ve totaled at least 35 yards, but none who’ve totaled more than 53. This is the definition of a limited ceiling, though you do get a solid floor with him, keeping him in mid-to-low-end TE1 territory.
Kansas City Chiefs at Miami Dolphins
Spread: Chiefs -7.5
Chiefs at Dolphins Betting Matchup
Patrick Mahomes: He’s taken back the throne as the No. 1 quarterback on the season, and with his fifth-straight 300-yard performance, he’s now on pace for 5,087 yards on the season. The only game he’s finished with fewer than 19.3 fantasy points was the one against the Broncos in the snow back in Week 7. In fact, he’s scored at least 20.2 fantasy points in all non-Broncos games. This week should be interesting. Mahomes ranks third in the league with 31 passing touchdowns, while the Dolphins have allowed a league-low 14 passing touchdowns. If you were to remove all rushing totals from quarterbacks and look at strictly passing, the Dolphins allow the fourth-fewest fantasy points per pass attempt. Meanwhile, Mahomes ranks No. 2 in that category among quarterbacks. As a whole, the Dolphins defense has allowed the second-fewest points per game (17.7) to their opponents, behind only the Steelers. Again, the Chiefs offense ranks second in points per game (30.8). These are like polar opposites going at it, though the game is taking place on the road for Mahomes. The reason we should give Mahomes the benefit of the doubt is due to the fact that he’s played well in other tough matchups this year, but also because part of the Dolphins success has come from lack of touchdowns. The 7.41 yards per attempt they’ve allowed is higher than the league average and ranks as the ninth-highest in football. It’s not an easy matchup and the concern for his ceiling could be the lack of competence on the other side of the ball, so maybe take it easy in DFS lineups this week. You’re never going to sit him in redraft.
Tua Tagovailoa: It was somewhat of a surprise to see Tagovailoa get the start in Week 13 but it’s clear the Dolphins want him to be their future. The good news is that they let him throw the ball a career-high 39 times for 296 yards. Prior to that game, he hadn’t topped 28 attempts in a game. He’s still averaging just 13.05 fantasy points per start, which isn’t going to do anything for streamers. On top of that, he’ll now go against a top-12 defense. The Chiefs do have a good pass rush, even though they have failed to generate many sacks with the pressure they’ve generated. Tagovailoa has not looked good under pressure, completing just 13-of-30 passes for 127 yards, so if the Chiefs can get pressure on him, he’s in trouble similar to what the Broncos did in Week 11, which forced him to get benched. The Chiefs have allowed just four quarterbacks to average more than 6.35 yards per attempt against them this year, and those quarterbacks were Derek Carr, Justin Herbert, Tom Brady, and Deshaun Watson. It’s safe to say we aren’t putting Tagovailoa in that conversation just yet. The 6.85 yards per attempt they’ve allowed is the sixth-lowest number in the NFL, and while we already know Tagovailoa’s attempts aren’t going to be massive, the Chiefs have limited opponents to just 33.9 pass attempts per game. With a team-implied total of just 20.5 points against this defense, Tagovailoa should be considered just a low-end QB2.
Clyde Edwards-Helaire and Le’Veon Bell: There was someone last week who was feeling down about his decision to play Edwards-Helaire, but I quickly reminded him that there was no way anyone could’ve known. In fact, I don’t even think Edwards-Helaire himself knew that he wouldn’t be used. If there’s any consolation, it’s that Bell reminded them why he shouldn’t be played very much totaling just 40 yards on 11 carries against a Broncos team that has been unable to stop the run as of late. Edwards-Helaire should be fresh and ready to rock this week against a Dolphins defense that ranks No. 25 in Football Outsiders’ DVOA metric. Running backs have averaged slightly more fantasy points against the Dolphins when compared to their season-long average, which is odd considering they’ve allowed just 17.7 actual points per game, which is the second-fewest in the league. Here’s another odd stat: No running back has topped 90 yards rushing against the Dolphins this year, though seven have been able to reach 68-plus yards. All in all, the Dolphins are allowing a solid 4.41 yards per carry and 6.04 yards per target, which are both above the league average. There have been three running backs who’ve scored twice against them, and the Chiefs do have a 28-point implied team total, so there’s certainly hope for touchdowns. The Dolphins have allowed their opponents to convert a league-high 67 percent of carries inside the five-yard line for touchdowns. Edwards-Helaire isn’t getting elite volume regardless, so he’s stuck in the low-end RB2 conversation, though he should have a good shot to score here. Bell is strictly a handcuff to Edwards-Helaire, and if last week showed us anything, he’s not a very good one.
Myles Gaskin: We figured he’d return to his workhorse role when both Salvon Ahmed and DeAndre Washington were ruled out, and that’s precisely what happened against the Bengals as he racked up 23 touches. This is the norm for Gaskin, as he’s averaged 21.2 touches over his last six games. He’s still yet to top 91 yards on the ground, but he chips in with 31.1 receiving yards per game, which makes him an RB2 more often than not. The only downside is that he fumbled late in the fourth quarter against the Bengals, which could cause discipline, though he did get carries the next series to close the game out. The matchup with the Chiefs is a good one for him, though gamescript is obviously a concern. Teams have tried to stick to the run because they know that’s the best way to move the ball against the Chiefs, as they’ve gone with a run play 43.8 percent of the time. Those have netted 4.64 yards per carry, which is the seventh-highest number in the league. Even when they do go to the air, running backs have averaged the third-most yards per target (6.67) against the Chiefs, which bodes well for Gaskin’s role that’s netted four-plus targets in 7-of-8 games. The reason the Chiefs have allowed the 12th-most fantasy points to running backs and not more is due to the lack of touchdowns against them, as we’ve seen just six running backs cross that white line (two of them scored twice). There have been seven running backs who’ve totaled 15-plus touches against the Chiefs and each of them finished with double-digit PPR points. There have been seven running backs able to post 15-plus PPR points against them, including Melvin Gordon with his 142 total yards last week. Gaskin has earned enough trust to be in lineups as a solid RB2, especially knowing Ahmed has been ruled out.
Tyreek Hill: We finally had a down game for Hill in Week 13, though it really shouldn’t have been. He didn’t know it, but he caught a 60-yard touchdown early in the game that should’ve been challenged. He then caught another touchdown later in the game that was negated by penalty. He’s now seen 10-plus targets in five of his last six games, including each of his last four. When you have a receiver who’s as efficient as him and getting double-digit targets, the possibilities are endless. The Dolphins have allowed a minuscule 1.62 PPR points per target to wide receivers this year, which ranks as the third-lowest mark in the league. However, lack of touchdowns have had quite the effect on that number, as the 8.29 yards per target they’ve allowed to receivers is the 15th-highest mark, while the 14.10 yards per reception ranks as the second-highest. As a team, they’ve allowed eight pass plays of 40-plus yards, which ranks as the third-most in the league. They’ve been trusting Xavien Howard in shadow coverage, but there’s no way you can trust one man on Hill, especially considering he moves into the slot more than half the time. Teams have heavily targeted wide receivers against them, as the 21.8 targets per game suggests (sixth-most). We’ve seen five different receivers finish with 100-plus yards, so it’s not like they’re a must-avoid matchup or anything. With Hill’s target share, he’s playable as a WR1 everywhere.
Sammy Watkins: Watkins has now played five full games this year and he’s seen at least six targets in each of them. Unfortunately, he’s topped 43 yards just twice. How does a receiver go from averaging 8.82 yards per target with Tyrod Taylor and Jared Goff to averaging just 7.95 yards per target with Mahomes? I don’t get it. The matchup against the Dolphins isn’t a great one, as they’ve allowed just 10 wide receivers to finish as top-30 options against them. It doesn’t help Watkins to know they’ve allowed just a 58.8 percent catch-rate to wide receivers, which is the second-lowest mark in the league. Watkins moves all over the formation, so there’s not one specific matchup he’ll have, but given the talent level of Xavien Howard and Byron Jones on the perimeter, and combining it with Watkins’ lack of upside, he shouldn’t be played as anything more than a decent floor WR4/5-type option.
DeVante Parker: Prior to getting ejected from last week’s game, Parker didn’t offer much to fantasy managers, totaling just four catches for 36 yards against the Bengals. We knew to downgrade him as soon as we heard Tagovailoa was the starter, but we also didn’t think that he’d throw the ball 39 times. It’s clear that Parker simply isn’t as valuable with Tagovailoa under center. Of the fantasy production the Chiefs have allowed to skill-position players, wide receivers have accounted for just 46.5 percent of it, which is the second-lowest number in the NFL. Building on that, they’ve allowed just third-fewest points per game (31.9 PPR points) to wide receivers. The good news for Parker is that he’s accounted for 52.6 percent of the Dolphins’ wide receiver points over the last three weeks. Still, the Chiefs have allowed just 11.3 receptions, 135.5 yards, and 1.0 touchdowns per game to opposing wide receivers, which is obviously not a good thing. All in all, they’ve allowed just 7.39 yards per target to them, which is the third-lowest number in the league. There have been just 13 wide receivers who’ve finished as top-36 (WR3 options) against them, which is obviously not ideal, but given projected gamescript and Parker’s high target share, he should get enough volume to put him in the WR3 conversation, though it’s hardly a matchup to get excited about.
Travis Kelce: He continued his dominance in 2020, recording 100-plus yards for the fourth time in his last five games. He’s now on pace for 1,485 yards this season, which would clear the all-time tight end record set by George Kittle in 2018 with 1,377 yards. If you think Mahomes and Kelce don’t know about that, you’re crazy. Kelce just became the first tight end to ever record five straight 1,000-yard seasons. The Dolphins have been a brutal matchup for tight ends this year, which included George Kittle, who was held to four catches and 44 yards on eight targets. The biggest performance against them this year has been Hunter Henry‘s four-catch, 30-yard, one-touchdown game in Week 10. He was the only tight end to finish as a top-12 option against them. No tight end has topped 13.0 PPR points, five receptions, or 55 yards, so it’s clearly not a smash spot for Kelce, though he doesn’t really care about matchups. Football Outsiders have the Dolphins ranked as the No. 14 defense against tight ends in DVOA, so competition has been part of the reason they’ve been one of the better teams in the league against the position in fantasy. You don’t need me to tell you to start Kelce in season-long, though it shouldn’t be considered a must to pay up for him in DFS cash games.
Mike Gesicki: We’ve watched his floor rise over the last month or so, as he’s totaled at least 40 yards and/or a touchdown in five straight games, including a career-high nine receptions last week against the Bengals that led to 91 yards and a touchdown with Tagovailoa under center. That was a phenomenal matchup for him, so it was good to see him take advantage of it. The Chiefs aren’t a bad matchup for tight ends, as they’ve allowed the 14th-most fantasy points to them, which makes sense because they’ve essentially allowed the league average in every statistic. They have struggled a bit since their bye week, allowing Darren Waller 7/88/1, Rob Gronkowski 6/106/0, and Noah Fant 4/57/0 over the last three weeks. They’ve faced nine different tight ends who’ve seen six-plus targets, but just five tight ends have posted top-12 numbers against them, so volume doesn’t guarantee anything. Gesicki has shown enough of a floor to consider him as a low-end TE1/high-end TE2 option, especially considering the Dolphins allowed Tagovailoa to pass the ball 39 times last week.