NFL Red Zone Trends to Monitor for Week 16

With 15 weeks now behind us, teams have racked up a total of 1,090 offensive touchdowns. Of those, 709 have come through the air with the other 381 coming on the ground, resulting in a 1.86:1 ratio in favor of passing scores.

In the red zone, teams have accounted for 465 passing (another 38 in Week 14) and 337 rushing scores (another 28 this past week) inside the 20-yard line. As we are now used to this year, passing touchdowns and overall scores are way down from where they were in 2018, but rushing touchdowns have increased by one. Those same red zone scores account for 1,860 fantasy points from passers, 2,022 from rushers, and 2,790 for those on the receiving end of the 465 touchdowns of the passing variety.

All that is to say that red zone opportunities are valuable for fantasy football players. In season-long leagues and daily games alike, we want to target players with touchdown upside, because of the amount of points you get on that one play compared to the 60 rushing or receiving yards you need to add up to that touchdown.

The question is, why are we talking about this if it is such a logical approach? The reasoning is simple: touchdowns are pretty hard to predict. Certain players are off the field in certain situations and packages, while others might be called upon as go-to guys in the red zone because of their size or versatility.

That's why we're here. All season, we're diving into the data to uncover valuable red zone trends that either point us toward one player or suggest we avoid another. Let's get down to it.

More D.J. Moore?

D.J. Moore is quietly having a great second season for the Carolina Panthers. On 133 targets, he's produced 86 catches and 1,174 yards, but only four touchdowns. He's now gone back-to-back games without a touchdown despite his team scoring 44 points across those two. And prior to scoring three touchdowns over Weeks 11 and 12, he went seven whole games with precisely zero touchdowns.

The opportunities have been there of late, though. Since Week 11, Moore is among the top 20 receivers in red zone targets, turning a half-dozen looks into three catches and two touchdowns. That makes up the only two red zone touchdowns he has this season. That's something, considering Moore's 12 red zone targets are merely one behind both Christian McCaffrey and Curtis Samuel, yet those two have combined for nine receiving touchdowns.

We are all well aware of the factor that quarterback play has played here. Kyle Allen has failed to fully capitalize on what would be the best weapons of Cam Newton's career. This week against the Indianapolis Colts, the team will turn away from Allen in favor of rookie Will Grier, who makes his first start in what figured to be a redshirt season.

Grier was shaky in preseason, but could he be that much of a step down -- if at all -- from Allen? If he's as good, the situation couldn't be much better for him to set up Moore for success. The Colts are in the middle of the pack in passing touchdowns allowed in the red zone, but in the last two weeks, they have surrendered five -- tied for the league-high. They were just diced up by Drew Brees and Michael Thomas, so Moore could end up a big value play at $6,600.

Mack's Opportunity and Carolina's Goal-Line Defense

Interesting enough, on the other side of that same game, it's the matchup in the running game that favors Marlon Mack and the Colts. In recent weeks, there hasn't been much to say about them, given Mack's absence from Weeks 12 and 13. And the last two weeks have been rough sledding against our 3rd- and 11th-ranked rushing defenses in the Tampa Bay Buccaneers and New Orleans Saints. But there's a bounce-back in store this week.

Even in those less-than-favorable matchups, the Colts have powered through for a league-high 8 rushing touchdowns on 24 attempts. That's what you get in a mobile quarterback, Jacoby Brissett, and an offensive line ranked sixth in Football Outsiders' power success rate. Mack has watched a lot of those carries go elsewhere, but now he is looking for his, and he might just get it this week.

For as much as the Colts' pass defense has been exploited in recent weeks, the Panthers' red zone rushing defense has been far worse for the entirety of the season. The 22 rushing touchdowns they have allowed inside the 20 are six more than the next-closest team, even with 10 other teams facing more of those specific plays. In the last three weeks alone, opposing rushers have seven touchdowns against them. Both Chris Carson and Derrius Guice had two in their big fantasy days against this defense.

With two trends in one, this represents the perfect combination for giant upside. So long as the game script remains neutral enough and Mack's snap rate climbs for a third straight week, we should see him have -- at the very least -- a respectable showing in Week 16. Our models agree, projecting him ($7,300) for 0.74 touchdowns and 13.0 FanDuel points, but with upside for much more.

Arizona Against the Pass

The Arizona Cardinals have been an easy target in the passing game this season. Thanks to Coach Kliff Kingsbury's high-tempo air raid approach, they are operating at the league's second-fastest pace in neutral situations, and that's helped opposing teams to healthy fantasy games. And while they've been susceptible both through the air and on the ground, they have been absolutely picked apart in the secondary -- even with Patrick Peterson returning from suspension.

The 25 passing touchdowns they have given up in the red zone are the most allowed by any team this year. They are one of only two teams with more than 20 against, and their 86 pass plays against are first by a pair. If we look at the last five weeks alone, teams have managed to score on 8 of 30 passing plays inside the 20, meaning they've scored once every 3.75 attempts.

Over half of the 29 targets have gone to wide receivers, with three resulting in scores. Those numbers put the dynamic combination of Russell Wilson and Tyler Lockett at the top of DFS wish lists and must-start players in season-long championship rounds.

At $8,300, Wilson is the second-most costly quarterback on the main slate, but there is a $1,000 gap between him and Lamar Jackson. For that reason, he has a higher projected value with 2.48 touchdowns and 22.6 FanDuel points. As for Lockett, he sits as our third-best value at receiver, projected for 14.8 FanDuel points at a price tag of $7,600. Expect a big week from that Seattle stack.

Play-Calling Trends

Again, our last trend is a full snapshot of each team's pass and run rate in the red zone, as well as their success rate in those two facets, per Sharp Football Stats.

TeamPass RatePass SuccessRun RateRun SuccessTeamPass RatePass SuccessRun RateRun Success

In Week 15, the turmoil-ridden Cleveland Browns jumped a number of spots in pass rate as they threw on 10 of their 11 red zone plays. And on the other side, the Buffalo Bills dropped further below the 50% mark, having run the ball 10 times and passing it only once against the Steelers.

Brett Oswalt i
s not a FanDuel employee. In addition to providing DFS gameplay advice, Brett Oswalt also participates in DFS contests on FanDuel using his personal account, username BrettOswalt. While the strategies and player selections recommended in his articles are his/her personal views, he may deploy different strategies and player selections when entering contests with his personal account. The views expressed in his articles are the author’s alone and do not necessarily reflect the views of FanDuel.