5 Daily Fantasy Football Matchups to Exploit in Week 12, Presented By Knightfall
Thanksgiving is a great holiday until you realize that it's pure trash. In all honesty, it's a wrecking ball of stress just waiting to careen through your life.
Spending time with your family is fantastic, and I'll always take an excuse to bathe in green bean casserole. No objections to those two aspects of the day.
But when you have to squeeze five days of work into a three-day window? Then we're going to have some problems.
Because there's no work on Thursday or Friday (and potentially even Wednesday), your entire rhythem gets a swift kick to the junk. That weekly schedule by which you live is a fallacy, and all order dissolves. Chaos abounds.
This lack of order created by the hustle and bustle around Thanksgiving can mean that DFS research gets the squeeze. You're dealing with cooking a large bird Thursday, and Friday is spent trying to suppress the vomit when you realize that you voluntarily consumed stuffing. Those are two huge days for DFS given the weight that injuries carry for each and every slate. If people check out and do all their research early -- or don't do research at all -- it can kill a lot of lineups.
This means we have to work a little bit extra this week to ensure we're not glossing over great plays just because they don't jump immediately off the page. As long as we dig in beyond the simple fantasy output of a player, we will have a leg up on those who decide to completely free ball it while digesting the entire weekend.
This is when advanced metrics such as numberFire's Net Expected Points (NEP) swoop in to make our lives a bit easier. NEP shows the expected points added on each play throughout the season, giving us the added context to know that a three-yard completion on 3rd and 2 is radically different than a three-yard completion on 3rd and 4. On the team side, NEP adjusts for strength of opponent, aiding us in that pursuit of research that goes deeper than just the surface. With NEP in our toolbelt, we can easily spot which units will have an advantage over the opposition, allowing us to plug them right on into our lineups.
We're just going to focus on the Week 12 main slate here. With those games at our disposal, which matchups should we be looking to exploit on Sunday? Let's check it out.
Los Angeles Rams' Rushing Offense
It doesn't take a whole lotta research to know that you want to get boatloads of exposure to this game. The showdown between the Los Angeles Rams and New Orleans Saints has an over/under of 53.5, nearly five points higher than any other game on the main slate. You want pieces of both sides here.
But with how well Jared Goff and the passing offense have played (and with what Kirk Cousins did to the Saints' secondary last week), it could lead people to invest heavily in the passing offense. And that's not totally off base with Robert Woods expected to miss the game due to a shoulder injury, opening up targets for others through the air. And with the Saints' running backs obliterating all opponents in their way, of course you're going to be sniffing that direction.
All these shiny objects are shiny for a reason. But don't let them distract you from how juicy Todd Gurley's matchup is.
For as good as the Saints' pass defense has been, their rush defense has been fully on the other end of the spectrum. They enter Week 12 ranked 31st against the rush, according to numberFire's schedule-adjusted metrics. Just within the past five games, they've allowed Aaron Jones, Jordan Howard, and Samaje Perine all to run for at least 100 yards against them. Dalvin Cook did the same back in Week 1. And Gurley has towered above each of those guys this year.
For the full season, Gurley has 39.2% of the team's total carries plus targets, the second-highest mark in the league behind Le'Veon Bell. His number in that department has gone down recently, but a lot of that is because he has essentially sat out the fourth quarter three of the past four games with the Rams holding comfortable leads. Given the opponent this week, that likely won't be an issue.
That lack of late involvement has allowed Gurley to fly a bit under the radar in DFS, too. He has topped 17 FanDuel points in just two of his past six games after hitting that mark in each of his first four. That has allowed his price to sink back down to $8,500. Now's the time to get back on the bandwagon.
Given how great the Saints have been playing, though, we do need to add in a word of caution here. It's totally possible that the Saints could snag a lead and put a lid on the Rams' abilities to run the football. That's an even greater risk when one of the Rams' best offensive pieces will be in street clothes. Even if that does happen, though, Gurley's floor seems steady.
Gurley has received 16.4% of the team's targets this year, netting four or more targets in 8 of 10 games. Woods' absence could open up even an additional target or two for Gurley should things go awry. There aren't many three-down backs left in the league, but Gurley absolutely counts as one.
You're going to want to get tons of exposure to this game, and you'll want to mix up the ways that you get it. But a core member of those game stacks should be Gurley. He's a highly-involved member of the home and favored team who should have a role no matter what the game script may be. He won't be sneaky by any means, but that doesn't decrease his allure in this spot.
Kansas City Chiefs' Rushing Offense
Here we go. Apologies in advance for those of you who are now watching the room spin with flashbacks of dead DFS lineups past. But we almost have to go right back to Kareem Hunt this week.
The reasoning there is threefold, and it's important to go through each of the pillars. The first is that the Kansas City Chiefs are favored by 10, which incentivizes us to look at the rush. The second is that the Buffalo Bills have been doggy doo against the rush for a pretty decent stretch now. And finally, Hunt's involvement hasn't been as bad as it has seemed. Let's tackle that first one now.
At the start of the year, Hunt was slaying in fantasy because the Chiefs were winning. When you win, you can run the ball more. But the Chiefs have won just one of their past five games, and it directly overlaps with Hunt's demise.
Vegas doesn't view that as being an issue against the Bills. Sure, they were also 10-point favorites last week against the Giants, but that was on the road and in poor weather. This game is in Kansas City, and the Bills have lost their past three games by a combined 80 points. The baseline assumption here should be that the Chiefs will take home a victory, and that benefits Hunt.
The second pillar is the matchup with the Bills. They have supplanted the Saints as the league's worst rush defense thanks to some truly wretched play the past few weeks.
Back at the trade deadline, the Bills sent defensive lineman Marcell Dareus to the Jacksonville Jaguars for a sixth-round pick. Dareus wasn't playing a ton of snaps for the Bills, but most of those snaps came on rush-heavy downs, and it anecdotally seems to have sunk the defense.
Here's a comparison of the Bills' defense in the five games Dareus played prior to the trade with the five games in which they haven't had Dareus (with two coming prior to the trade due to injury). Rushing NEP per carry is the expected points opposing running backs have added divided by the total carries, and Success Rate is the percentage of carries that have increased the opposing team's expected points for the drive.
|RBs Against Bills||Yards Per Carry||Rushing NEP Per Carry||Success Rate|
|When Dareus Plays||3.28||-0.12||30.84%|
|When Dareus Is Out||5.41||0.21||47.14%|
Correlation isn't always causation, and we're always dealing with small samples, but my goodness. They have been simply abysmal without Dareus.
So the matchup is peachy, and the Chiefs should be able to snag a win. That doesn't matter if Hunt gets four carries in the first half, which is what happened in Week 11. But even with that and the team's recent struggles, Hunt's workload has been totally acceptable.
Let's look exclusively at the past three games, a span in which Hunt has maxed out at 9.2 points on FanDuel. Clearly, we're not cherry-picking the cream of the crop out of his game logs. This is rock bottom.
There are six running backs on the main slate who are more expensive than Hunt on FanDuel. Here's a look at the workload of each player over their past three games compared to where Hunt's at.
|Past 3 Games||FD Price||Carry Market Share||Target Market Share||Overall Market Share|
First, Le'Veon Bell is a saint, and you would be foolish not to consider him this week.
Second, Hunt's overall market share is second on this list, trailing only Bell. Part of that is due to Gurley's non-involvement late in blowouts, but keep in mind that this is the worst three-game stretch of Hunt's season. Even in this time, he has still been heavily-involved in the offense.
This means Hunt is one of the focal points for an offense that is a heavy home favorite against a team that has been hemorrhaging points to opposing running backs. It's painful to use a guy who has burned you multiple times recently, but it would be a mistake not to.
Hunt's disappearing act when the team is trailing does prevent him from being a player in which we can put all of our faith, but he can and should still be a core play in Week 12. With his price down to $7,700, some of that risk is baked in, and the stink of his game logs will prevent him from carrying restrictive ownership. With all of this working in his favor, we need to suck it up and ride Hunt one more time.
Tennessee Titans' Passing Offense
The last time we saw Marcus Mariota, he was lobbing balls right into the chests of the Pittsburgh Steelers' defenders on Thursday Night Football. He threw four picks that night, giving him more interceptions than he has touchdowns for the full season. But even with that being the case, we still need to get a piece in Week 12.
Even though we're more than halfway through the 2017 season, we're still dealing with small samples when looking at individual players. That's especially true for guys who have missed games due to injury, which is the case for Mariota. When we have small samples, certain factors will play a larger role in our backward-looking analysis than they truly should, and it can slant the way we view a player. For Mariota, that factor is matchups.
Mariota has attempted at least 15 passes in eight games this year. Half of those games have been against teams ranked ninth or better against the pass, according to numberFire's schedule-adjusted metrics. Most quarterbacks are going to struggle when facing opponents like this.
The other complicating component of Mariota's season is his hamstring injury. Prior to that, he was actually playing some pretty solid football. But since the injury, his metrics have taken a bit of a tumble. This table compares his performance pre- and post-injury. Passing NEP per drop back shows the expected points added on a per-drop back basis while including deductions for events such as sacks, interceptions, and incompletions.
|Mariota in 2017||Passing NEP per Drop Back||Success Rate|
What makes Mariota's pre-injury splits more impressive is that one of those games was against the league's best pass defense in the Jaguars, and another was the pre-Apocalypse Seattle Seahawks. When he was healthy, he was doing well even against solid opponents.
But Mariota has played in five games since returning, and they had a bye week in there, too. So why has he continued to struggle, and why should we expect that to change on Sunday?
Again, it helps to have extra context around those games. Two of the five were played on short rest, two were played without Corey Davis, who has been a big part of the offense when he has been healthy, and two were against tough opponents. Mariota hasn't really had a favorable situation since injuring the hamstring. Until this week, that is.
Not only is Mariota on extra rest after having played Thursday, but he'll face an Indianapolis Colts team that ranks 31st against the pass. They're on extra rest, too, after a Week 11 bye, but the main concern here is getting Mariota back to full health, and the cushion between games could help accomplish that.
The Colts have been getting shredded by quarterbacks all season long. DeShone Kizer and Tom Savage are the only players to not throw for at least 300 yards or a pair of touchdowns while facing them, a list that includes Mariota in his first game back from the injury. We should lower expectations for a quarterback facing a divisional foe for the second time in a season, but the Colts' incompetence does lower that concern a hair.
Mariota is far from being a lock, and he's not a great option for cash games. But he's a guy with rushing upside facing an awful defense in a game with a retractable roof. Add in the potential for increased passing efficiency, and Mariota starts to look pretty spicy.
Although you can use Mariota by himself, you can easily stack him with one of his pass catchers, too. They're all cheap, and they all present some sort of appeal.
We've got three games of data since Davis' return from injury, and it means we have to see what each player has done in that span to determine which one is our best choice. This table shows each player's target distribution profile with a "deep" target being all throws that travel at least 16 yards beyond the line of scrimmage.
|Last 3 Games||FD Price||Overall Targets||Deep Targets||Red-Zone Targets|
Based on this, it's hard not to dig Delanie Walker at tight end.
Walker's usage measures up well to that of the receivers, including on deep targets, an area where not many tight ends get significant run. Walker still hasn't scored a touchdown yet this year, but that could easily change against the Colts on Sunday.
If you're choosing between Davis and Rishard Matthews, part of it should come down to which you feel the Colts will treat as the top option. Thanks to some solid play from cornerback Rashaan Melvin, the team has been able to hold some opposing top receivers in check. But secondary options -- like J.J. Nelson, Marquise Goodwin, Allen Hurns and JuJu Smith-Schuster -- have shredded them. One of these guys is going to have a plus matchup. It's just hard to decipher who it will be.
If you're rolling multiple tournament lineups, the ideal startegy would be to get exposure to both so that you can soak up the sweetness for whoever benefits from the softer coverage. If you've got just one, and you decide not to ride with Walker, then Davis may be the preferred choice simply because he is cheaper. With double-digit targets in two of his four complete games, you could certainly do a lot worse than him at $5,400.
Pittsburgh Steelers' Passing Offense
As mentioned above, Le'Veon Bell is a fantasy deity, and you need to have plenty of exposure to him this week. His reduced output Thursday was likely due to the short layoff between games, and he will have had 10 days to rest up between then and his date with the Green Bay Packers on Sunday. But in the lineups where you don't use Bell, you should be giving a sniff to the rest of the Steelers' passing offense.
That may seem a bit strange when you see that the Steelers are favored by 14 for this matchup, hinting that they'd be able to simply run the ball without pumping too much volume into the passing game. That could happen, and it's a big part of the reason that we love Bell. But there are reasons to believe Ben Roethlisberger and friends could smash regardless.
As we saw against the Titans last week, this aerial attack can still do damage when it wants to. When you adjust for schedule, they're ranked fourth in Adjusted Passing NEP per play, allowing them to inflict harm in an efficient manner. The Packers are just 25th against the pass, meaning they should further aid the Steelers in this pursuit.
That said, the Steelers have developed a bit of a reputation for playing down to their opponents. Just a few weeks ago, they kept things close with the aforementioned Colts only to defeat them with a late Chris Boswell field goal. With the way the Packers have played recently, it'd be hard to play down to their level, but slacking off against an inferior opponent would lower the appeal in Roethlisberger and his pass catchers.
Part of that disappointment could stem from the fact that the game against the Colts was on the road. Since the beginning of the 2014 season, the Steelers have been favored by a touchdown or more six times at home and eight times on the road. Here are Roethlisberger's per-game numbers in each of those situations (with some help from the RotoViz game splits app).
|As 7-Point Favorites||Attempts||Yards||Touchdowns||Interceptions|
The caveat for that letdown against the Colts is that the game was indoors, and Roethlisberger has traditionally been exceptional there. But the home sample above includes last week's game with the Titans where he threw 45 times for 299 yards and 4 touchdowns. The spread just hasn't mattered in the past; they're throwing no matter what the score may be.
The other thing that helps boost the appeal of Roethlisberger here is that the Packers have been much better against the rush than against the pass. For the full season, they're 13th in Adjusted Defensive Rushing NEP per play (again, as opposed to being 25th against the pass). If we look from Week 6 on, this gap has gotten even larger with the Packers sitting 8th against opposing ground games and 27th versus the air. If they can keep Bell even partially in check, it'll funnel additional volume Roethlisberger's way, allowing him to unlock that ceiling.
Of course, the one way you could get a piece of both pies is by stacking Roethlisberger with Bell. Because Bell has 17.9% of the team's targets this year, you're still getting some double-dip action between the two, and you're likely locking up every offensive touchdown that the Steelers score. It also provides a bit of a safeguard in case the Steelers do go with a more run-heavy approach.
The more attractive option here, though, is likely pairing Roethlisberger with Antonio Brown. Last week showed just how high that potential can be.
For the full season, Brown has at least 10 targets in every game except for two, accounting for 33.0% of the team's overall targets. He also has 48.3% of the team's deep targets and 29.8% of the red-zone targets. There's no reason to avoid him at a price of $9,600.
If you want to save some salary, you'll have to keep an eye on the health of JuJu Smith-Schuster throughout the week.
JuJu Smith-Schuster has a "small" hamstring issue, Mike Tomlin says. He'll be limited early in week and #Steelers coach says, as a young player, the rookie WR needs reps to play Sunday.
— Aditi Kinkhabwala (@AKinkhabwala) November 21, 2017
That's clearly a concern, especially with this game being in primetime, meaning you won't have as much ability to swap out of Smith-Schuster should he be unable to go. But if he gets in a full practice by Friday, there's plenty to like here.
Over the past three games, Smith-Schuster has 24.3% of the team's overall targets, 31.0% of their deep targets, and 16.7% of the red-zone looks. Those two big games weren't a fluke. He's a legit piece in this offense, and he's well worth his price tag at $6,800. So keep an eye on the Steelers' practice reports throughout the week, and if Smith-Schuster seems like he'll be a full go, he's a way to exploit this matchup without handcuffing your team elsewhere.
Atlanta Falcons' Passing Offense
Much like the Steelers before this, the Atlanta Falcons have a running back over whom we should be slobbering in DFS. That's Tevin Coleman, who is just $6,200 on FanDuel after playing 67.7% of the team's snaps Monday night. You need to have Coleman on your rosters if Devonta Freeman can't go, which seems to be the most likely scenario. The Falcons' passing attack deserves some thought, too, though.
The Falcons are favored by 10 points, another scenario in which we should be slobbering over guys in Coleman's position. Again, though, this Tampa Bay Buccaneers defense is one that encourages opponents to move the ball through the air.
The Buccaneers enter this game ranked 26th against the pass. When we shift our focus to the ground game, they move up to 16th. They're 25th and 17th, respectively, from Week 6 on, meaning these struggles have continued even as they have gotten healthier.
As for the Falcons themselves, things haven't been quite as bad as they've seemed. While it's not the Earth-scorching unit we saw a year ago, they're still one of the better offenses on the board.
Ryan enters Week 12 ranked 10th in Passing NEP per drop back out of 38 quarterbacks with at least 100 drop backs. That puts him ahead of Aaron Rodgers, Russell Wilson, and Kirk Cousins, all of whom have had decent years from an efficiency perspective (when healthy). Ryan also leads the league in Success Rate at 52.92%, nearly a full percentage point ahead of the rest of the pack.
Despite this, Ryan checks in at a price of $7,600 on FanDuel, making him the cheapest quarterback we have discussed here. That makes sense with Ryan not yet having topped 20 FanDuel points in a single game, but the floor has still been solid.
Ryan has racked up at least 15 points on FanDuel in each of his past five games, and that's despite attempting fewer than 30 passes in three of those. He has also been on the road for four of those five games. This game is back at home, beneath the retractable roof of Mercedes-Benz Stadium. These are great conditions for passing, and if Ryan unlocks his ceiling at this price, you'll be sitting pretty.
Due to the potential game script, Ryan's not a cash-game option. Coleman is clearly the go-to name in cash should Freeman sit again. But for tournaments, it's hard to overlook Ryan in this matchup.
As for Julio Jones, it's easy to understand why you wouldn't want to use him. He has hit double-digit points on FanDuel in just one of his past four games, and if the Falcons snag an early lead, he could get put in the back pocket. But the usage is there to make him a tournament play.
Before the team's matchup with the New England Patriots in Week 6, head coach Dan Quinn said they needed to get Jones more involved in the offense. They seem to have followed through on that promise. Here are Jones' usage splits before and after the statement with Week 4 omitted after Jones left the game early.
|Jones' Target Profile||Overall Targets||Deep Targets||Red-Zone Targets|
|First 4 Healthy Games||26.4%||33.3%||11.1%|
|Past 5 Games||32.7%||55.0%||33.3%|
Jones has nine red-zone targets the past five games. He that same number the entirety of last year. He's still sitting at just one touchdown for 2017, but that's not a trend that can hold with this usage.
Jones is getting a ton of looks, and most of them are of the high-leverage variety. This makes him a dream for tournament rosters, especially when his $7,800 price tag bakes in the disappointing output this year. You're taking a risk, but there's now enough upside to say that the risk is worth it.
If you'd rather not keep blowing your bankroll on Jones (and, believe me, I hear you), you can instead spend down a bit on Austin Hooper at tight end.
Hooper's role isn't great as he's coming off a two-target game on Monday night. But leading into that, he had six targets in three consecutive games, meaning he has more targets than Mohamed Sanu from Week 8 on. Hooper also plays nearly every snap for a team with the second-highest implied team total on the main slate. For $5,200, he's at least worth a sniff.