First of all, I would like to wish a Happy Thanksgiving to all of my readers out there and welcome you to a special edition of The Gauntlet. Take the time to relax, eat a ton of great food, and watch some quality football this week. I am beyond thankful for The Fantasy Authority giving me the platform to spread my knowledge of football to you guys. With that being said, I am going to go more in-depth than normal on this 3 game slate, to show more so of “how” I got to my thought process for each game. Let this serve as a thank you to my readers. Hopefully, you all find this both helpful and enjoyable and can learn to build on your research even further moving forward. Let’s get to it…
The very first thing I like to do when breaking down a game is to analyze that game on my own. I formulate my own opinions on players, matchups, and possible schemes. Once I have all of that information gathered, I then use outside resources, such as Vegas totals. These serve as spot checkers for overlooked information. In addition, they help identify possible spots where I can take advantage of overlooked factors, depending on how confident I am in that play. A lot of people make the mistake of thinking “that Vegas total is insanely high, I have to play every player from that game.” Sure, that may be true every once in a while, but it isn’t the profitable strategy. Again, use the outside resources as your backup points. Now to illustrate this process for the games…
Vikings (23.75) at Lions (20.75) Total 44.5
The first place I start with each matchup is where every single snap takes place: The Trenches. I look to gain an understanding of who is going to be able to control the line of scrimmage on both sides of the ball for various reasons. An O-Line that is getting a good push, and is also not giving up sacks means two important things. First, there’s more room to run for the RB, leading to shorter 2nd and 3rd downs and increased ability to sustain drives. Second, the QB gets more “comfortable” time in the pocket. I emphasize comfortable because QBs operate much, much, much more efficiently when they have a clean pocket to throw out of. So, let’s look at this matchup and the line play, according to Footballoutsiders.com.
Vikings Offensive Line vs Lions Defensive Line
Stats show 3.92 adjusted line yards (the number of yards the line is creating for the RB) which ranks them 20th in NFL. They are also 13th in 2nd level yards (5 yards beyond the line of scrimmage) and 14th in open field yards. Lastly, Vikings have 10 adjusted sacks allowed, which ranks 1st in the NFL.
Stats show 4.61 adjusted line yards (29th), 26th in 2nd level yards, and 15th in open field yards. They have 21 adjusted sacks (20th).
This indicates that the Vikings are pretty average at getting their RBs to the 2nd level and beyond, while the Lions allow opposing teams to get to the second level consistently. Detroit allows big plays from the second level also. This represents a bump up spot for the Vikings RBs right off the bat.
In terms of the pass protection, these stats show that the Vikings have incredible pass protection, while the Lions don’t get pressure on the QB at all. While that may appear true on the surface, this is where the part of understanding offensive and defensive schemes comes in handy. The reason the Vikings aren’t allowing any sacks is because of how quickly Keenum is getting rid of the football. If we take a look at the air yards (from airyards.com), we see the vast majority of Thielen’s targets are a depth of 2-6 yards. In addition, the vast majority of Diggs’ targets are a depth of 0-5 yards. This screams QB quick release and allows him to make high percentage throws.
However, Detroit being a divisional opponent makes a difference. The Lions are one of the more talented defenses in the league, so I think they will game plan to force Keenum out of this 0-6 yard comfort zone. Look for Detroit to make him try to throw the ball deep, which allows more playmaking opportunities for the Lions defense (sacks and interceptions). Keenum played notably bad against good defenses this year (Steelers, Lions, and Ravens). I expect this second matchup against the Lions to go similar to the first.
While Thielen is still in play because of his high floor, we can get off of Keenum as our QB here. Diggs will most likely be matched up with Slay, which is not something I want to mess with, even on a 3 game slate. The only other Viking I have interest in is Jerrick McKinnon. Remember that we already mentioned that the Vikings RBs get a slight boost because of this line matchup. On top of that, if the Vikings trail at all, McKinnon becomes the main beneficiary of check downs. These are crucial for RBs in PPR formats. Regardless of game flow, McKinnon sees around 14 carries a game and could see 5-7 targets in this matchup as well. He is my favorite Viking.
To the other side of the ball…
Lions Offensive Line vs Vikings Defensive Line
Lions O Line: 2.99 adjusted line yards (dead last), 27th in 2nd level yards, and 18th in open field yards. This tells me the RBs are talented when they get into space, but they struggle getting there through the run game. They took 33 adjusted sacks (24th). To sum this up, not a good O line.
Vikings D Line: 4.05 adjusted line yards (14th), 4th in 2nd level yards, and 2nd in open field yards. This tells me the Vikings allow 3-4 yards per carry, but don’t allow the big plays. So, any Lions that rely on rushing (I am looking at you Abdullah) represent solid plays this week. With 27 adjusted sacks(13th), this is a pretty average pass rush.
What this line matchup tells me is the Lions SHOULD abandon the run early and often. If they want to win this game, they need to rely on Stafford to make quick throws. With Marvin Jones likely to be shut down by Xavier Rhodes, let’s turn our attention to Golden Tate. He has the best matchup, and the scheme makes sense for him to see a ton of targets. He should be able to do damage with those targets as well. If we check football outsiders for defense DVOA by direction, one of the places the Vikings are the weakest is the short middle of the field. This is exactly where Tate operates.
According to Sharpfootballstats.com, out of Tate’s 75 targets this year, 68 of them have been deemed short. 24 of those are in the short middle of the field. Like I said, happy Golden Tate week. Stafford is my favorite QB out of the cheap priced guys. The matchup isn’t the greatest on the board, but he has been one of the most consistent QBs in the league this year, and as mentioned previously, the Lions are going to have to abandon the run to win this game. Golladay is a tourney only play because of his TD upside, but wouldn’t play him in cash.
Top Plays: McKinnon, Thielen, Lions D, Stafford, Tate
Chargers (24) at Cowboys (24) Total 48
Chargers Offensive Line vs Cowboys Defensive Line
Chargers O Line: 3.49 adjusted line yards (28th), 14th in 2nd level yards, 10th in open field yards. This means that the RB must create his own space and the offensive line is playing poorly. With 12 adjusted sacks, they rank 6th in the league.
Cowboys D Line: 4.31 adjusted line yards (21st), 30th in 2nd level yards, and 28th in open field yards. This screams Melvin Gordon. The Cowboys are getting demolished by big plays in the run game. With 28 adjusted sacks, they rank 11th.
Summary: play Melvin Gordon. There is nobody on this slate that has his floor OR upside. He most likely will be lower owned than he should due to his high price compared to others on this slate. However, this matchup is incredible. Without Sean Lee, those numbers would be even worse. The Cowboys get shredded on the ground but don’t allow much through the air. This is a great spot to fade Keenan Allen and Philip Rivers and watch your money grow as Melvin goes for 150 yards and 2 TDs.
Cowboys Offensive Line vs Chargers Defensive Line
The Cowboys situation is trickier and we can’t really rely on their numbers because of possible missed games from Tyron Smith and/or La’ell Collins. However, we can still look at how bad the Chargers run D has been in 2017.
Chargers D Line: 4.46 adjusted line yards (26th), 29th in 2nd level yards and 31st in open field yards. If Smith and Collins play, load up on Alfred Morris everywhere. He ran for 93 yards on 17 carries against a really good Eagles front seven and now gets the complete opposite of that matchup here. However, if Tyron Smith and Collins don’t play, play the Chargers D.
Both teams should be running the ball a ton, so this may shape up to be a rather low scoring game. Both may run the clock and thus have fewer possessions. I would be hesitant to invest heavily in these passing attacks. Dez is fine in cash because of his target floor, but he hasn’t hit 100 yards yet this season which limits his tourney upside. He is TD reliant. As I just made a case for not playing much of the passing attacks, that means no Dak or Rivers for me.
Top Plays: Gordon (my top play of the whole slate), Morris (If Smith or Collins play), Chargers D (if both Smith and Collins sit)
Giants (18.5) at Redskins (26) Total 44.5
Giants Offensive Line vs Redskins Defensive Line
Giants O Line: 4.16 adjusted line yards (14th), 19th in 2nd level yards and 16th in open field yards. These are all average numbers and will only get a boost against good matchups. With 22 adjusted sacks, they rank 12th best.
Redskins D Line: 4.8 adjusted line yards (30th), 22nd in 2nd level yards, and 10th in open field yards. This tells me the Skins are getting beat at the line of scrimmage. But, the LBs and safeties do a great job of limiting the RBs from getting to the next level and gaining big plays. With 24 adjusted sacks, they rank 9th best.
If the Giants committed to just one player, this would be a solid spot to use an RB. However, they use a committee right now and that doesn’t benefit the fantasy community. If I had to choose one, I would pick Darkwa. However, I do not want to play him if I can help it. Sterling Shepard is questionable, and if he misses this game, this offense gets ugly fast.
On the recording of the DFS DegeNation podcast (listen to it if you haven’t yet), Eliot Crist suggested Tyler Rudolph if Shepard is out. His rationale centered on the fact that the Skins get torched by the slot receiver. Ben Cummins also suggested Roger Lewis if Shepard is out. Both make very interesting tournament plays on this slate due to increased targets in Sterling’s absence. Engram is definitely the no-brainer safe play here. If we do get word that Shepard is playing, he is also an awesome play. Remember, the Skins get shredded by slot receivers.
Redskins Offensive Line vs Giants Defensive Line
Redskins O Line: 3.93 adjusted line yards (19th), 24th in 2nd level yards and 20th in open field yards. Thus: the Skins are an average (at best) run team. With 25 adjusted sacks allowed, they rank 19th.
Giants D Line: 4.33 adjusted line yards (22nd), 24th in 2nd level yards and 21st in open field yards. While we mentioned the Skins run game is average, this matchup is something we can exploit. With 14 adjusted sacks, Giants rank 31st in the NFL.
Kirk Cousins should have all day to throw. Remember the “comfortable” in the pocket advantage I mentioned earlier. Perine should see good room to run. A Redskins onslaught could very well be in the making here. They are the only team on the slate where the matchup jumps out in both facets of the game. Play any Skins here with confidence. Pairing Crowder, Doctson and Vernon Davis with Cousins also makes sense. With the loss of Chris Thompson, there are now extra targets to go around. Last game against the Saints, Crowder seemed to be the biggest beneficiary from this injury. All are in play.
Top Plays: Shepard (if he plays), Engram, Cousins, Perine, Crowder, Doctson, Davis, Redskins D
As always, check out all our weekly content and rankings at The Fantasy Authority. Come back for your weekly dose of The Gauntlet in Week 13!