5 Daily Fantasy Football Matchups to Exploit in Week 13, Presented by Knightfall
Whenever we see something strange happen, we have to take a step back and ask ourselves, "Is this legit?"
Cohen hasn't hit 14 points in a game since then.
If we had just chilled out for a hot second and pondered the true value of a guy who was 5'6", 179 pounds and played in a bad offense, maybe we would have realized that this Week 1 funkiness was an outlier. Plenty of people did not, and it has led to some serious frustration since then.
But that's not always going to be the case. Sometimes, events that appear fluky at first can wind up being full-season trends. And failing to recognize those can be just as damaging from a DFS perspective.
Each week, we try to predict which matchups are worth exploiting for the upcoming main slate of daily fantasy football, and a big part of that includes assessing whether the opposing offense is good enough to take advantage of any deficiencies. This means we have to question the legitimacy of recent performances on a weekly basis, and if we're wrong, we're going to make some dumb decisions. But with the right tools, we can at least be informed when trying to answer these conundrums.
One of those tools is numberFire's Net Expected Points (NEP), the metric we use to track the efficiency of both teams and players with the team metrics being adjusted for strength of opponent. NEP gives us the context to know that a three-yard completion on 3rd and 2 holds way more value than that same three-yard completion on 3rd and 4. Using this can help us better know when something is legit and when we need to be skeptical.
Week 13 is going to make us dig deep to consider whether we want to buy in on some recent performances. And if we guess correctly, we could be sitting pretty with our tournament rosters. With that in mind, which matchups should we be trying to exploit on this weekend's main slate? Let's check it out.
Green Bay Packers' Passing Offense
Sunday night, the Green Bay Packers' offense looked like it had turned back the clock to Week 5, before Aaron Rodgers' broken collarbone derailed their season. Brett Hundley racked up 245 yards and 3 touchdowns on just 26 attempts, exhibiting Rodgers-esque efficiency.
But was that performance legit? Or was it just a team that came to play in the national spotlight?
Obviously, it's impossible to answer that question definitively. And given that Hundley threw three interceptions just one week before that, it would be even harder to say that this offense is suddenly a force. But when you look at what they've dealt with this year, it's entirely possible they could do damage again against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.
We've now got six games in which Hundley has been the team's main quarterback. And on the whole sample, he has struggled quite a bit, ranking 35th in Passing NEP per drop back of the 39 quarterbacks with at least 100 drop backs this year. That's not great, Bob, and we don't like using inefficient quarterbacks in DFS. A lot of that, though, can be explained by looking at the teams the Packers have faced.
In these six games, Hundley is yet to face a pass defense ranked worse than 13th, according to numberFire's metrics. That aforementioned three-interception game came against the Baltimore Ravens, who currently have the second-best pass defense in the league. For a guy like Hundley, who is just getting his feet wet in the NFL, that's going to be detrimental.
This week is radically different. Instead of facing a top-13 unit, Hundley will go up against a Buccaneers defense that sits 30th against the pass. They just allowed Julio Jones to take a blowtorch to their soul, and this has been a trend the entire season. If a team is facing the Bucs, you had better get exposure to their passing game.
With Hundley, the fantasy points have been there at times even when the efficiency has not. He scored with his legs in each of his first two starts, and both Tyrod Taylor and Cam Newton racked up at least 40 yards on the ground against Tampa Bay. Hundley hasn't been as active as a rusher as those two, but it does provide some hope that he'll snag additional points in this fashion.
You would think that this would all align to make Hundley a popular play in DFS. That may not be the case. If people are paying down at quarterback, Geno Smith is $6,000 on FanDuel in a great matchup, and Trevor Siemian is $6,200 as he regains his starting job with the Denver Broncos. There's plenty to like about both of those guys, but more importantly for our purposes, it should keep a lid on Hundley's ownership for $6,400.
If we assume that Hundley's going to move the ball against this Buccaneers defense, that means we think they'll score points. That could also lead us to running back Jamaal Williams at $5,700. But beyond just the offense's potential competency, Williams ranks second among running backs in overall market share (percentage of a team's carries plus targets) over the past three games, trailing only Le'Veon Bell. He's a guy to consider in the lineups where you don't use Hundley as long as both Aaron Jones and Ty Montgomery remain sidelined.
When you do use Hundley, you're going to want to attach him to Davante Adams. He's the clear-cut top receiver in this offense.
Hundley is now up to 184 pass attempts for the year. Here's the target breakdown for the team's top three receivers in that time with a "deep" target being classified as any throw that travels at least 16 yards downfield.
|Passes From Hundley||Overall Targets||Deep Targets||Red-Zone Targets|
Not only has Hundley targeted Adams with regularity on the deep throws, but he has been effective in doing so. Hundley is 5-of-12 on deep passes targeting Adams for 173 yards, a touchdown, and no interceptions. On 11 balls thrown to anybody else, Hundley has as many completions to his team (two) as the opponents. These two have a pretty special connection.
Stacking the two doesn't require that you break the bank. Adams is $6,500, well below where his market share profile says he should be priced. With this being the case, you can use either guy by himself, but pairing the two together in this matchup should give your rosters plenty of upside.
Minnesota Vikings' Passing Offense
Our sample on the Minnesota Vikings' offense being spicy is a bit more robust than that of the Packers, making it easier to buy into what they're doing. And with the Atlanta Falcons' secondary banged up, the Vikings could continue that dominance on Sunday.
For the full season, we've got 337 drop backs of data on Case Keenum at quarterback. In that time, he ranks fifth in the league in Passing NEP per drop back among qualified passers. If we're evaluating Keenum based on just his metrics this year, he's closer to being an MVP candidate than Teddy Bridgewater's backup.
You could chalk up Keenum's performance to some of the surrounding pieces in the offense, and the data will back up that narrative. But if we're just talking about Week 13 DFS, the factors that have helped Keenum thrive so far are still in place, and they could help him excel again this week.
Outside of having two of the league's best receivers catching his passes, Keenum has another huge asset at his disposal: an offensive line that is keeping him upright better than any unit in the league.
On the season, the Vikings have lost just 16.46 expected points due to sacks. That's the lowest mark of any team in the league on a per-drop back basis. They're allowing Keenum to get rid of the football, and when you're throwing to such talented individuals, that's going to lead to good things.
This is a significant distinction given this week's matchup with the Falcons. Opponents have lost 65.24 expected points due to sacks against them, the fourth-best mark in the league on a per-drop back basis. It has kept their defense afloat, helping them sit 17th in overall pass defense. But facing a team that cuts off stellar pass rushes could expose some flaws in the secondary.
Quinn said Desmond Trufant will be out today
— Kelsey Conway (@FalconsKelsey) November 29, 2017
Desmond Trufant is one of the league's better outside cornerbacks. If he's out, the team could slide Brian Poole to the outside, according to Kelsey Conway of AtlantaFalcons.com, but Poole is dealing with a back injury of his own and has played in the slot for 96% of his snaps, per Pro Football Focus. Either way, if Trufant is out, either Stefon Diggs or Adam Thielen is going to be facing a backup, and that could lead to destruction.
We'll have to monitor Trufant throughout the week, because it's possible that he'll clear concussion protocol prior to Sunday. But his absence added to the Vikings' ability to protect the passer would put the Falcons' defense in a bad spot. If that all aligns, Keenum would be hard to pass up at $7,600, provided you're comfortable with the risk of Bridgewater entering should Keenum struggle.
The more interesting decision here is between Thielen and Diggs. It all seems to boil down to which route you prefer to take.
If you want to play it safe, you should be going with Thielen. He has 29.0% of the team's targets this year, 43.8% of their deep targets, and 26.2% of the red-zone looks. That's the target distribution profile of a bona fide star, and Thielen is priced as such at $7,800. But he has proven that he's worth it, meaning Thielen's a guy you can use in cash games.
That's not to completely write off Diggs, though. Although his role has been reduced since returning from injury, that's partially because he has gone up against the likes of Josh Norman, Bashaud Breeland, Trumaine Johnson, and Darius Slay over the past three weeks. That's a tough stretch no matter how good you are, and Thielen's matchups have largely been more lenient. If Trufant is out, Diggs will be in a good spot to bounce back at a price of just $7,000.
Finally, it's important not to overlook Jerick McKinnon, who would seemingly be the preferred back here with the potential for the Falcons to jump out ahead. The Falcons have allowed 68 receptions to running backs this year, tied for the third-highest total in the league. McKinnon has had at least 12 opportunities in every game since Dalvin Cook's injury, making him a worthwhile option for $6,100.
New England Patriots' Rushing Offense
We've finally got some clarity on the New England Patriots' backfield, and all in life is beautiful. We've just gotta decide which pony we want to ride.
Based on last week, it would seem to be Rex Burkhead who should draw all of our attention. He scored a pair of touchdowns -- one rushing and one receiving -- while setting a season high with 13 rushes. There's plenty to love in that.
But in order to fully buy into Burkhead as the preferred option this week, we need to take a deeper look at his usage relative to Dion Lewis. Lewis was also a beast last week, and with Burkhead figuring to carry the higher ownership between the two, it may be time to shift back Lewis' direction.
A big part of the appeal in targeting any piece within the Patriots' offense is the promise of touchdowns. This makes it crucial that we understand whose usage will spike once the team gets close to the goal line. But those opportunities went to both backs in Week 12.
Below is a breakdown of each player's opportunity totals (carries plus targets) based on how far they were from the goal line in that game. Although Burkhead scored twice, Lewis was still involved in the red zone.
|Total Opportunities||Inside 20-Yard Line||Inside 10-Yard Line||Inside 5-Yard Line|
All three of Burkhead's red-zone touches came inside the five-yard line, potentially leading you to believe that he is the team's preferred option in close. But Lewis got a carry there, too, and he has had decent involvement there ever since taking over lead early-down duties back in Week 6. It's not as if the team ignores Lewis in those situations; Burkhead was just the guy who got the carries most recently.
This headache of choosing sides is absolutely necessary when you look at how sweet the matchup is against the Buffalo Bills. The Bills have fallen all the way to 32nd against the rush, according to numberFire's metrics, and that includes an impressive performance against Kareem Hunt and the Kansas City Chiefs last week.
The big culprit here seems to be the absence of Marcell Dareus, who was dealt to the Jacksonville Jaguars at the trade deadline. The Bills played five games with Dareus before the trade and have now played six without him (one of which was due to injury earlier in the year). Here's how opposing running backs have fared against them with and without Dareus. Rushing NEP per carry is the expected points added on a per-carry basis, and Success Rate is the percentage of rushes that increase the 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||5.03||0.16||44.08%|
Again, this is including last week's solid outing. The larger body of work says the Bills will struggle to stop opposing backs, pushing us steadily toward Lewis and Burkhead.
Across the board, the two options seem fairly even. Both had between 15 and 17 opportunities last week, and they both got work near the end zone. You're not getting any help from pricing, either, with Lewis at $6,300 and Burkhead at $5,900. So, in tournaments, at least, it's likely best to just go with the one you believe will be lower owned.
Because Burkhead is the one who scored twice in Week 12, logic would seem to dictate that he would be the more popular option between the two. If that continues to seem most likely entering the weekend, then Lewis is the guy you would want.
However, if Lewis starts raking in the love based on the matchup, then there are plenty of reasons to adore Burkhead, as well. He has a meatier role in the passing game, giving him a higher floor should things spin out of control, and you do get a discount of $400. It's hard to go wrong there.
If you're trotting out multiple tournament lineups, then you should pick the player you prefer and use him most heavily while sprinkling the other into some of the remaining lineups. Regardless, you'll want to get your fair share of each with how much the Bills have struggled against the rush recently.
Carolina Panthers' Rushing Offense
Before we get too deep into this, it's worth noting that Christian McCaffrey missed practice on Wednesday due to a shoulder injury he suffered in Week 12. If he can't get in a full practice by Friday, then you will want to look elsewhere, potentially Alex Collins against the Detroit Lions' leaky rush defense. But for now, we'll assume that McCaffrey will play, and he's in a great spot if he does.
We haven't been able to exploit the New Orleans Saints' deficiencies against the rush often recently because they have been blasting far too many opponents out of the water, nullifying the threat of the rush. But with McCaffrey, that's much less of a concern thanks to his involvement in the passing game. When he gets volume on the ground, he could do so in an efficient manner.
The Saints' defense has been a much-improved unit this year, but those improvements are almost wholly limited to their abilities against the pass. They're 30th against the rush, having allowed Aaron Jones, Dalvin Cook, Samaje Perine, and Jordan Howard to each rack up at least 100 yards rushing against them. McCaffrey's unlikely to hit that threshold, but the Carolina Panthers should be able to move the ball on the ground.
All of this would be moot if McCaffrey and friends were incapable of exploiting the weakness. And earlier in the year, that may have been true. But over the past three games, McCaffrey has seemingly made some big strides there.
Here's a breakdown of his advanced metrics by week. The most recent grouping is a sample of just three games because the team had a bye mixed in there, but they've been giving him work, and he has been rewarding them for their faith.
|McCaffrey in 2017||Rushes||Rushing NEP per Carry||Success Rate|
Having a Success Rate that high (the league average is 37.50% for running backs) means that his metrics aren't being propped up by long runs. He's just putting the team in a good position to score points on a fairly consistent basis.
This stretch has pushed McCaffrey up to 14th in the league in Success Rate out of the 39 running backs with at least 75 carries. Teammate Jonathan Stewart is 28th. Based on this, it would seem that McCaffrey is making a compelling case to get even more volume on the ground.
When you check out McCaffrey in the player selection module, though, you'll notice that his price is up to $7,300, an increase of $600 from where he was last week. That's a pretty hefty price to pay, especially for someone with his workload.
However, the workload concerns may be a bit overblown. After all, fellow rookie Alvin Kamara is $8,500 in this same game, and he and McCaffrey are fairly similar assets. In fact, if you look at their overall market shares (the percentage of the team's carries plus targets they receive) recently, they're almost carbon copies of each other.
|Overall Market Shares||Past Game||Past 3 Games||Past 5 Games|
Clearly, if we're picking straight up between the two, we're going to ride with Kamara every time. But McCaffrey's in the same usage tier, his matchup is solid, and his efficiency is on the rise. With ownership likely favoring Kamara again, why not give McCaffrey a crack?
We've got to keep an eye on McCaffrey's health and be willing to pivot if it looks like the shoulder injury will impact his workload for Sunday, and he's not a tremendous cash-game option. But if McCaffrey is ever going to show us his ceiling, this game could be it, allowing us to dabble in his waters for our tournament rosters.
Los Angeles Chargers' Passing Offense
The Browns' defense has been a target of ours pretty much all year, and to their credit, they have been getting better recently. But this team is still struggling to stop opposing quarterbacks.
On the season, Cleveland sits 26th against the pass, according to numberFire's metrics. This does, however, include a team before Myles Garrett had made his debut, and stud corner Jason McCourty has missed time due to injuries, as well. So it may be painting them a bit unfairly.
That said, even when we narrow the scope to just the past three games (in which both Garrett and McCourty have been healthy), they're still not an elite pass defense. From Week 10 through Week 12, the Browns are 18th in schedule-adjusted pass defense efficiency. And one-third of those games were played in 16-mile per hour winds with gusts up to 30 miles per hour. You'd expect them to succeed in those conditions.
Just for fun, let's assume for a second that the Browns actually have turned a corner and truly are the league's 18th-ranked pass defense. That's still a below-average mark, and it hints that they'll struggle to slow down Philip Rivers, who enters Week 13 ranked fourth in Passing NEP per drop back. Even when we assume the best, this is still a mismatch in the Chargers' favor.
The other reason we can at least partially ignore this uptick for the Browns is that part of it has stemmed from their abilities to get to the passer. Opponents have lost the 19th-most expected points due to sacks on a per-drop back basis while facing the Browns this year, a healthy improvement from where they were prior to Garrett's debut. But -- like the Vikings earlier -- the Chargers negate that.
The only team in the league that has lost fewer expected points due to sacks this year than the Chargers is that aforementioned Vikings team. This gives us two scenarios where we have defenses whose biggest strength is rushing the passer facing a team that keeps its quarterback upright. We'd be wise to invest in both scenarios.
If you're worried about the Chargers not needing to throw often as 13.5-point favorites, there are two separate factors that should quell those concerns.
First, the Browns' defense is much better against the rush than the pass, funneling volume to the aerial attacks. They're fifth against the rush overall, though that is a dip from where they were prior to Jamie Collins' season-ending injury. That's enough to make us feel better about using Melvin Gordon as a huge favorite, but it shouldn't scare us off of Rivers.
Second, the Chargers are generally a pass-happy team when they're ahead. According to Sharp Football Stats, the Chargers have thrown 52% of the time when leading by a touchdown or more, the third-highest mark in the league. If we increase that to a two-touchdown lead, the Chargers still throw 43% of the time, a good chunk above the league-average mark of 35%. We saw this in practice two weeks ago when the Chargers shredded the Bills and Rivers still attempted 32 passes in the game.
This seems to point toward using Rivers at $8,000 against the Browns. He flashed his ceiling back on Thanksgiving, and he could rack up the touchdowns here. He's easy to dig.
At receiver, if you want to use Keenan Allen, you're going to have to accept some brutal ownership. He has been slaying the competition the past two weeks, and in this matchup, you know he'll command attention. That doesn't mean he's not worth it.
On the season, Allen has 27.9% of the team's targets, 29.6% of their deep targets, and 26.7% of the red-zone looks. That's a pretty tasty combo that gives him both floor and upside on a weekly basis. Both his salary at $8,100 and his ownership will reflect that, but you will be getting good bang for your buck.
If you want to deviate away from that, though, you could save some cash and plug in Hunter Henry for $5,400.
Henry hasn't exceeded five targets since Week 6, which makes him a fairly volatile asset. But he did play 76.47% of the team's snaps in Week 12, up from his season-long mark of 65.45%. On top of that, the Browns have bled points to tight ends, allowing the second-most points in the league to the position. Henry's riskier than Allen, but he'll also likely carry lower ownership and a reduced price. That's enough to make him viable in this matchup.