Three-game slates should be treated much differently than a full slate of games. Playing certain players against your defense becomes more acceptable, game stacking becomes much more significant, and the decision on chalk has much more weight. The structure of this piece will go game by game, with a player pool at the end.
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There’s a lot to love with the Colts’ passing game against the Vikings. They have the advantage on the offensive line according to our Trenches Tool, and seven of the last eight quarterbacks have thrown for over 300 yards passing against them. The Vikings stick to Cover 3 and Cover 4 for a majority of games, and I don’t see that changing this late in the season. Since Jeff Saturday has become a coach, Matt Ryan has ranked 32nd in yards per attempt at 6.6 and has a 4:4 touchdown-to-interception ratio. Those stats do not point to great quarterback play, but the Vikings are giving up eight yards per attempt, and he is priced like a bottom QB. The Colts are also coming off a bye week, and Saturday has had a lot of time to adjust to this offense.
The Colts promoted Parks Frazier, who has never called plays, to offensive coordinator, and this bye week gave him a lot of time to implement new looks. In the passing game, I expect this game to feature a heavy dose of Michael Pittman. Pittman against Cover 3 and Cover 4 gets targeted on 26.1% of his routes and averages 1.8 yards per route run. The Vikings have allowed over 170 yards after the catch in six games this season and over 180 in three of the last four games. Pittman and Parris Campbell are the leaders in yards after the catch, and Campbell is first on the team in broken plus missed tackles per reception. Alec Pierce is the other wide receiver in this room, but he will need the big play, and they have also done that. D.J. Chark, Quez Watkins, and Nelson Agholor are some of the names that scored off go routes against the Vikings. Pierce has both of his touchdowns and 46.7% of his yards on go routes. In Cover 3, he’ll have one-on-one down the sidelines on these routes. The tight end room has been an ugly scene for the Colts week-to-week, but I believe this is a two-man show between Kylen Granson and Jelani Woods. Granson ran more routes, but Woods has been better after the catch and, in this matchup, fits perfectly. These are my two punt plays at the tight end position, and I believe Woods has the better upside.
The Colts have yet to allow over 300 yards passing to any quarterback on the season and have held four of their last five opponents to under seven yards per attempt. They have played a lot of Cover 1 and Cover 3 lately, but the game scripts and matchups have called for those coverages, and this matchup could mean more Cover 2 or Cover 4. I don’t love the matchup for Kirk Cousins, however; since Week 10, the Colts have gotten pressure on just 23% of dropbacks, and pressure has been the cause of problems for Cousins. Christian Darrisaw returns for the Vikings, which will boost their offensive line. Cousins has three games where he was pressured under 30%, and last week, he threw for over 400 yards. However, the Trenches Tool has the advantage of going to the Colts’ DL, which will keep me away from Cousins and from stacking him.
That open player will be Justin Jefferson, and it will be a heavy workload for him. If the Vikings are playing with a lead, Jefferson is going to see a lot of Cover 1 and Cover 3 coverages, which he has 249 more yards than the player in second against. Against these coverages, Jefferson averages 4.71 yards per route run and gets targeted on 31.2% of his routes. The issue is that the rest of the Vikings are not successful against these coverages, and it’s tough to imagine them winning often against this secondary. T.J. Hockenson is the only other player of interest for me in this matchup, and if they do get more two-safety looks, he has been the main target for Cousins. Against these coverages, Hockenson gets targeted on 25.6% of his routes and averages 1.9 yards per route run.
Jonathan Taylor will see more than 20 touches and will be popular on a three-game slate. The Vikings have defended the run extremely well this season, and according to the Trenches Tool, the Vikings have a significant advantage there. Taylor’s volume will be his savior, but I don’t love the matchup, and if he doesn’t score a touchdown, he’s likely off the optimal lineups.
Dalvin Cook had an awful game against the Lions but will have a great spot to bounce back against the Colts. The Vikings have the advantage in run blocking, and the Colts have allowed eight rushing touchdowns since Week 10, which is the second-most in the NFL. The Colts have also allowed 4.8 yards per carry and three running backs over 70 yards rushing. In this matchup, I lean toward Cook over Taylor.
Tyler Huntley is starting for the Ravens after exiting last week’s game with a concussion. His price will keep him in my pool, but double-stacking him is not something I will be doing. The player to double-stack him with is Mark Andrews, which will be the chalky way to stack him. Andrews was shut down in the first matchup against the Browns, but they threw the ball just 16 times, and I don’t expect that to repeat with Huntley. Huntley played the Browns last year, and Andrews had 11 receptions, 115 yards, and a touchdown. Andrews has a chance to outscore the second tight end by a massive margin, and his price is way too low. The problem is that the Browns have defended tight ends well this season, and only Dawson Knox, Hunter Henry, and Jonnu Smith have had over 60 yards receiving against the Browns this year. The Ravens have the advantage in pass blocking, but it’s not by a big margin.
Deshaun Watson is still acclimating to game speed, but this is a matchup he can put up big numbers against. The Ravens have allowed their last three opponents over eight yards per attempt and have allowed five games of over 300 yards passing this year. Stacking Watson is also easy with Amari Cooper, Donovan Peoples-Jones, or David Njoku. All three of these players went for over 70 yards against the Ravens in the first matchup with Jacoby Brissett at quarterback, and you could put all three of them in the lineup for large slate GPPs. Cooper and Peoples-Jones will have the most adversity of being the top-performing wide receivers on the slate, and Njoku will be the one with the easiest path to a big advantage at TE. The Ravens will run a lot of Cover 3 and Cover 4 coverages. On the year against these coverages, Cooper averages the most yards per route run and targets per route run. In the small sample size with Watson, Peoples-Jones has been his go-to player. This group is not a popular stack, and it’s one with a high upside.
The Ravens have a significant advantage in the run game, and they showed it off in the first game against Cleveland. Since Week 10, the Browns allow 5.6 yards per carry to running backs, and Najee Harris is the only running back under four yards per carry that had at least 15 carries. The problem becomes the workload split between Huntley, J.K. Dobbins, and Gus Edwards. Last week, Dobbins had 15 carries and ran for 120 yards, and Edwards had 13 carries for 66 yards. That was against a very good front of the Steelers, and this is a much easier matchup. The Ravens should lean on the rushing attack, and we should see plenty of carries for all three players.
Nick Chubb has been one of the best running backs in the NFL this year, but the matchup is worrisome. The Ravens were already one of the top run defenses, and then added Roquan Smith to become even better. This is also the second-worst run-blocking matchup, according to the Trenches Tool. The one thing Chubb has going is that he went for 91 yards in their first matchup. He’s going to be the least popular amongst the top backs, and if you are stacking Huntley with Andrews, he’s a good run back.
The Dolphins’ passing attack has struggled in recent weeks, and there’s a gameplan to slow them down that the Bills can emulate: Force Tua Tagovailoa to throw to the boundaries and limit what can be done over the middle. Tagovailoa is coming off a game where 59.1% of his passes were on-target, according to Sports Info Solutions, and that’s the fourth-worst on-target percentage of his career. The weather in this game will also do him no favors, as it’s supposed to snow and be extremely cold, which he has struggled with. Despite all the bad, Tagovailoa is still in play because of how few people will play him. In this situation, the ceiling of Tagovailoa will depend heavily on yards after the catch and if they are running the ball effectively. Tyreek Hill didn’t do well in the first matchup against the Bills, but he’s gotten the better of Tre’Davious White in the biggest moments in the past and has shined the brightest against the Bills. Jaylen Waddle was the go-to in their first game and will need to step up again.
The Bills have mixed up their coverages as they’ve worked White into the lineup, but in the last two weeks have played Cover 3 and Cover 4 at a high rate. Amongst QBs with at least 50 attempts against these coverages, Tagovailoa ranks seventh in the NFL at 8.4 yards per attempt and an 8:3 TD/INT ratio. Hill ranks first in yards per route run against these coverages at 3.91. Against these coverages, Waddle hasn’t been as effective as he averages 2.11 yards per route. I do not like any other Miami pass-catchers because this Bills’ defense has only been beaten by great players.
Josh Allen has been visibly frustrated with his recent performances, and the elbow injury looks to be something he’s going to push through. The Dolphins played Cover 2 at over a 30% rate once this year, and it was when they played the Bills. They traded for Bradley Chubb for this specific matchup, so they can drop seven in coverage and get to the quarterback with four. The person that leads the wide receivers in yards per route against Cover 2 is Isaiah McKenzie at 2.56, and Diggs leads them in target share at 21.4%. The Dolphins will not let Allen throw deep and will stick Xavien Howard on Stefon Diggs for the whole game. Gabe Davis is a non-factor against Cover 2, averaging 0.53 yards per route and 6.7% targets per route. The Dolphins had a great counter with Cover 2 and kept everything in front. It’s the Bills’ turn, and how to counter that move is designing more short routes for the running backs and McKenzie. They brought in Cole Beasley, which concerns me about the faith in McKenzie, but we do not know if he will be active for Saturday.
The Dolphins will need to run the ball to help out this offensive line, but they aren’t a great run-blocking team. Raheem Mostert will be the lead back with Jeff Wilson dealing with injuries. The Bills have given up over 100 yards rushing to two teams this year, and Zonovan Knight had 71 yards this past weekend. It’s a difficult backfield to look to, but I would go with Mostert, the healthier one, and the price isn’t a factor.
The Bills are a frustrating group at running back, but this group is the key to the matchup. The only counter to getting Miami into single-high coverage is running the ball effectively, and James Cook has shown the ability to break tackles and create explosive plays. Cook also averages the highest yards per route run out of this group, and we saw Devin Singletary put up a high receiving day against the Dolphins. Cook is who I am expecting will see the big workload, but it hasn’t been predictive with this group, and Josh Allen will eat into that work.