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Evan Silva

Matchups

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Divisional Round Matchups

Sunday, January 14, 2018


Divisional Round Sunday

1:05 PM ET Game

Jacksonville @ Pittsburgh
Team Totals: Steelers 24, Jaguars 16.5

Pittsburgh’s Week 5 loss to Jacksonville was one of 2017's worst-coached games as Ben Roethlisberger teed up 57 pass dropbacks versus only 15 carries for Le’Veon Bell against a Jaguars defense that was struggling mightily versus the run. The Jags have gotten much better up front with the addition of DT Marcell Dareus, but they showed vulnerability to backs in the passing game in Weeks 16-18 by allowing 5/76/0 receiving to 49ers fullback Kyle Juszczyk, followed by a 66-yard screen-pass score to Derrick Henry, and 7/54/0 to Bills backs last week. Bell’s legs should be fresh after he sat out Week 17 and rested during Pittsburgh’s first-round bye, and he closed the year strong with a 4.55 yards-per-carry average in the last five games after managing 3.82 YPC in his initial ten. Ideally, OC Todd Haley will learn from his Week 5 mistake and make Bell his Week 19 focal point.

Facing Jacksonville was death to quarterbacks not named Russell Wilson or Jimmy Garoppolo all year, but there are some reasons for optimism on Ben Roethlisberger. First is Pittsburgh’s offensive prowess at Heinz Field; the Steelers averaged 28.3 points per game at home versus 22.5 on the road and scored fewer than 24 points in Pittsburgh just once all year. Next is Roethlisberger’s white-hot finish; after a rocky first half, Big Ben completed 67.1% of his throws with an 18:5 TD-to-INT ratio and averaged 312.7 yards over his final seven games, throwing multiple touchdown passes in all seven. Last but not least is the expected return of Antonio Brown.

Due back after suffering a partial calf tear on December 17, Antonio Brown flamed the Jags for a 10/157/0 stat line in October, exploiting soft spots in Jacksonville’s zone coverage and schooling Jalen Ramsey for a 49-yard gain. While it is fair to have concerns about Brown’s health less than a month removed from tearing a leg muscle, there is no wide receiver with a higher ceiling on the Divisional Round slate. Brown has scored 41-of-59 career touchdowns in home games (69.5%), including 6-of-9 TDs (67%) this season. … JuJu Smith-Schuster finished second on the Steelers in receiving (4/58/0) in these clubs’ Week 5 date, running almost all of his routes in the slot. JuJu’s target counts were 10 > 7 > 8 > 5 in the four games before Brown got hurt. While this matchup is as tough as it gets against a Jaguars secondary that allowed just seven enemy wideouts to clear 60 yards in 17 games, Smith-Schuster remains Pittsburgh’s second-best bet for receiving production. … Martavis Bryant managed a painful 5/21/0 line on eight targets in Week 5, and his target counts in the last four games where both Brown and Smith-Schuster played were 2 > 5 > 4 > 6. Ticketed for low volume, Bryant is a big-play- and/or touchdown-dependent DFS dart. … Neither Jesse James nor Vance McDonald has a plus matchup, and they are likely to share time. The Jaguars allowed the NFL’s fifth-fewest yards (646) to tight ends in 2017, erasing Delanie Walker (3/19/0), Jack Doyle (3/16/0), Charles Clay (3/15/0), and Jimmy Graham (0/0) in the last month and a half.

With Blake Bortles’ confidence back in the gutter to the extent that he struggled to complete wide-open checkdowns in last week’s 10-3 win over the Bills, Jacksonville’s optimal offensive approach will be to saddle up Leonard Fournette for another high-volume effort. It helps that Pittsburgh’s run defense collapsed after losing ILB Ryan Shazier (neck, I.R.), yielding an 89/505/5.67/5 rushing line to enemy backs in its final four non-Week 17 games. Fournette logged his two highest snap rates of the season (87%, 86%) in Week 17 and the Wild Card Round, handling 23 and 24 touches with five targets in each. While Fournette’s usage remains promising and most important for DFS production, his inefficiency is hard to ignore. Fournette’s yards-per-carry average has dipped to 3.15 with only three all-purpose touchdowns over his last eight games after he averaged 4.58 YPC with seven TDs in the initial six.

Blake Bortles accomplished the rare feat of being a playoff-game-winning quarterback who gained more yards as a rusher (88) than passer (87) in last week’s victory over Buffalo, scrambling a career-high ten times while missing almost every throw in sight. The Steelers allowed the NFL’s sixth-fewest quarterback rushing yards (171) this regular season, although the Bills gave up the fewest (127). More concerning is Pittsburgh’s pass rush; the Steelers finished first in the NFL in sacks (56), fifth in quarterback hits (106), and ninth in interceptions (16). Pittsburgh is the top D/ST play on the board in the Divisional Round.

The Jags resorted to a four-way wideout rotation with Marqise Lee back in the Wild Card Round. Snap rates went as follows: Lee and Dede Westbrook 59%; Keelan Cole 54%; Allen Hurns 51%. Westbrook dominated targets (8), while Lee, Cole, and Hurns each drew just one. No Jaguars wideout cleared 50 yards in a game Bortles threw for 87, but Westbrook’s usage does appear to be the most secure against Pittsburgh, which hemorrhaged big receiving lines to Marvin Jones (6/128/0), Josh Gordon (4/115/0), Rishard Matthews (5/113/1), Chester Rogers (6/104/1), T.J. Jones (4/88/0), Golden Tate (7/86/0), Davante Adams (5/82/1), A.J. Green (7/77/2), Mike Wallace (3/72/0), Rashard Higgins (3/68/2), DeAndre Hopkins (4/65/1), Brandin Cooks (4/60/1), Donte Moncrief (1/60/1), and Chris Moore (3/48/1) in its last nine games. The vast majority of those wideouts play on the perimeter, where Lee (91%), Westbrook (83%), and Cole (79%) primarily lined up in last week’s win over the Bills. Bortles’ capability of delivering catchable passes remains the biggest obstacle for all Jacksonville pass catchers, but I would have them individually ranked Westbrook > Lee > Cole > Hurns for the Divisional Round. The Steelers’ pass defense will be further weakened if RCB Artie Burns can’t play after injuring his knee in Wednesday’s practice. Burns’ backup is third-round rookie Cameron Sutton, who has played 113 career defensive snaps.

Score Prediction: Steelers 17, Jaguars 16

Editor's Note: Want 6 DFS plays for your Divisional Round lineups? Check out this FREE video and dominate!

 

4:40 PM ET Game

New Orleans @ Minnesota
Team Totals: Vikings 24.5, Saints 20.5

Albeit with the benefit of positive game script against inferior opponents than they will play on Sunday, the Vikings transitioned into a run-heavy, Latavius Murray-focused team down the stretch as Murray logged 19-plus touches in five of the final six weeks and 20-plus carries in each of the last three. Murray wound up ranking fourth in the NFL in red-zone carries (48), sixth in carries inside the ten (22), and fifth in runs inside the five (13) en route to eight TDs. The Saints allowed 100-plus rushing yards in six of their last nine games and the NFL’s fifth-most yards per carry (4.40) in 2017. Beginning in late November, New Orleans’ defense was ravaged by year-ending injuries to DE Alex Okafor (Achilles’), DE Hau’oli Kikaha (ankle), S/CB Kenny Vaccaro (groin), and WLB A.J. Klein (groin). If the Vikings can grab and maintain a lead, Murray will become a sleeper to lead all backs in Divisional Round rushing attempts. One reason to buy into such a scenario is Minnesota’s ability to limit scoring on its home turf, keeping adversaries in chase mode by holding nine straight opponents below 20 points at U.S. Bank Stadium.

Murray’s floor is low due to minimal passing-game involvement, however, and Jerick McKinnon would stand to benefit if the Vikings fall behind. McKinnon out-targeted Murray 31 to 11 in the second half of the season and ran more than twice as many pass routes over the course of the year (295 to 137). The Saints showed regular season vulnerability to pass-catching backs by surrendering the NFL’s 14th-most receiving yards (737) and second-most receiving TDs (5) to running backs, then were rinsed by Christian McCaffrey for 6/101/1 receiving in the Wild Card Round. McKinnon’s late-season usage still shows he is a volatile DFS option. His touch totals were highly uneven (14 > 9 > 16 > 8 > 12) in the final five games, while McKinnon managed only nine touches in Minnesota’s lone loss from Week 5 on (Week 14 @ CAR).

Case Keenum closed out the regular season with multiple touchdown passes in six of his final nine starts and elevated home-game efficiency with a 68.9% completion rate, 7.75 yards-per-attempt average, and 100.1 passer rating at U.S. Bank Stadium versus 66.4%, 7.05 YPA, and a 96.8 rating on the road. Despite finishing 17th in the NFL in attempts (481), Keenum ranked top 12 in 20-plus-yard completions (45) and now draws a Saints defense that yielded the league’s third-most 20-plus-yard pass plays (57). Per PFF, 12.5% of Keenum’s passes were thrown 20 or more yards downfield, the NFL’s 11th-highest rate among 34 qualified quarterbacks. Keenum also finished 15th at his position in rushing yards (160), while New Orleans yielded the NFL’s fourth-most rushing yards (307) to quarterbacks this regular season, followed by Cam Newton’s 8/37/0 rushing line last week. On paper, at least, there are reasons to believe this is a sneaky-favorable matchup for Keenum’s skill set despite the Saints’ stout pass-defense reputation.

Keenum’s Weeks 14-17 target distribution: Adam Thielen and Stefon Diggs 30; McKinnon 13; Kyle Rudolph 11; Laquon Treadwell 9; Murray 7; Michael Floyd 6; Jarius Wright 5. … In the season's final month, Thielen ran 49% of his routes in the slot and drew over half of his targets there, boding well for his chances of avoiding Saints stud boundary CBs Marshon Lattimore and Ken Crawley. Thielen’s 65% slot rate in Week 17 was his highest since Week 5. Cooper Kupp (8/116/0), Adam Humphries (7/102/0), Mohamed Sanu (6/83/1), and Jamison Crowder (7/72/0) all delivered against the Saints’ slot coverage in the second half of the year. … Diggs can expect to see far more of Lattimore and Crawley after running 77% of his Weeks 14-17 routes outside and drawing only five slot targets in that span. Nevertheless, fellow perimeter WRs Julio Jones (7/149/0, 5/98/0), Chris Godwin (7/111/1), and Devin Funchess (4/79/0) each carved out productive box scores against the Saints in their last five games. Diggs remains capable of exploiting New Orleans’ big-play vulnerability after turning 22% of his receptions into 20-plus-yard gains, tied with Thielen for highest on the team. Diggs also had massive 2017 home-road splits with a 5.8/81.8/1.0 average at U.S. Bank Stadium versus 3.6/44.8/0.25 on the road. … Rudolph’s Weeks 14-17 snaps were limited by an ankle injury he rested during the Vikings’ playoff bye. Although the Saints played shutdown tight end defense all season, Greg Olsen (8/107/1) showed they are hardly impenetrable in the Wild Card Round. Assuming Rudolph is full go, he will offer the highest touchdown probability in Minnesota’s pass-catcher corps after leading the team in targets and catches inside the ten-yard line (9, 8). Rudolph seems certain to be lightly owned in DFS.

After torching Carolina’s flammable secondary at the Superdome, Drew Brees’ Divisional Round outlook is much less appealing in Minnesota to face a rested Vikings defense that allowed a league-low 13 touchdown passes and NFC-low 5.5 yards per pass attempt. In eight home games, Mike Zimmer’s defense gave up just eight combined touchdowns, another league low. Playing beneath Minnesota’s U.S. Bank dome theoretically helps, but ultimately Brees is going to have to overcome arguably the NFL’s toughest-possible quarterback matchup with few or no discernable edges. Brees will also play this game without LG Andrus Peat, who fractured his fibula in the Wild Card Round.

The 2017 Vikings were similarly unwavering on the ground, where they held enemy running backs to the NFL’s fewest fantasy points, including an anemic 49/135/2.76/1 rushing line in their final three regular season games. Minnesota also yielded the league’s third-fewest receiving yards (489) to backs. Alvin Kamara and Mark Ingram are both purely fade-matchup, bet-on-talent DFS plays with Kamara nosing ahead lately by out-snapping Ingram in two of the Saints’ last three games, and it wasn’t game-script driven. Despite New Orleans’ Wild Card Round lead on the Panthers, Kamara logged his second-highest snap rate (64%) of the season and out-touched Ingram 11 to 10. Kamara has also begun to play more than Ingram in scoring position. Kamara already tied Le’Veon Bell for the NFL running back lead in red-zone targets (17) and has scored a touchdown in eight of his last ten non-concussed games.

After laying Wild Card waste to James Bradberry and Captain Munnerlyn, Michael Thomas will find his Divisional Round sledding much tougher against a Vikings defense that allowed just six TDs to wide receivers in its last 13 games and one wideout to clear 60 yards in its last five. Thomas managed 5/45/0 receiving when the Vikings hosted the Saints in Week 1, despite not being shadowed by Xavier Rhodes, who seems certain to follow Thomas wherever he goes on Sunday. The only touchdowns Rhodes allowed all year were both scored by Marvin Jones on Thanksgiving. Rhodes (6’2/210) is one of the NFL’s few corners capable of matching Thomas’ (6’3/212) size. … Ted Ginn was a hero in the Saints’ Wild Card win, most notably dusting Panthers FS Kurt Coleman for an 80-yard TD. Minnesota has not shown susceptibility to those kinds of plays, yielding a league-low 35 completions of 20-plus yards and the NFL’s fifth-fewest 40-plus-yard receptions (5). Ginn remains in play as a low-volume dart throw against Vikings No. 2 CB Trae Waynes, whom PFF charged with the NFL’s fourth-most yards allowed (759) this season. Waynes did make strides after a slow start, permitting zero TDs post-Week 10. … Brandon Coleman worked as the Saints’ lead slot receiver over Willie Snead last week, playing 50% of the snaps and turning five targets into a 4/44/0 stat line. Albeit a chronic underachiever, Coleman stands 6-foot-6 and is worth mentioning as a touchdown-dependent DFS punt. The Vikings use a rotation of 39-year-old Terence Newman and smallish Mackensie Alexander (5’10/190) at slot corner. … Josh Hill looks like a chasey DFS play after his 3/49/1 Wild Card box score, which he accomplished on only four targets and 19 routes. The Vikings allowed the NFL’s third-fewest yards (596) to tight ends in 2017.

 

Friday Night Update: With Coleman (neck) ruled out, Willie Snead is the likeliest playing-time beneficiary after sharing slot snaps with Coleman all year. Snead operated as a blocker on 48% of his snaps, however, drawing just 16 targets in 11 appearances. The risk in trusting Snead is he could simply now split time with diminutive speedster Tommylee Lewis, who plays 37% of his snaps in the slot and drew 14 targets to Snead's 16 despite running half as many routes as Snead. Most consequentially, I think Coleman's loss enhances Michael Thomas' DFS-tournament viability. Giving him more slot work would be one way for the Saints to keep Thomas away from Xavier Rhodes, who played just 2% of his 2017 snaps in the slot. Thomas quietly led New Orleans in slot-route targets (47) this season.

Score Prediction: Vikings 24, Saints 20



Evan Silva is a senior football editor for Rotoworld.com. He can be found on Twitter .
Email :Evan Silva



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