Fantasy News & Analysis

Hartitz Mismatch Manifesto: Biggest fantasy football mismatches in Week 17

Tampa, Florida, USA; Tampa Bay Buccaneers quarterback Tom Brady (12) throws a pass in the second half against the Buffalo Bills at Raymond James Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Nathan Ray Seebeck-USA TODAY Sports

The NFL is a matchup-driven league. Offensive coordinators are always looking to scheme their playmakers into one-on-one situations against a defender, while defensive coordinators will attempt to do anything in their power to upset the timing and rhythm of the opposing QB.

Despite the obvious impact that defenses have on opposing offenses, fantasy players and fans alike are often left with one-way metrics to describe offenses and defenses that they are then forced to compare against each other in an attempt to identify mismatches.

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The goal here is to provide easy-to-decipher charts and notes to define each week’s key matchups and advantages on both sides of the ball in:

  • Explosive Plays
  • Pace
  • Pressure
  • Yards Before Contact
  • Passing Game
  • EPA

The following charts display matchup-specific information meant to highlight the largest mismatches in these ever-important facets of football to ultimately gain actionable betting and fantasy takeaways. And, of course, to have fun.

Note: Data is from Week 1-16, 2021. Key discrepancies will be highlighted in the ensuing paragraphs.

Explosive Plays

Big plays make the football world go round. Matchups between explosive offenses and leaky defenses are exactly what we’re looking for when compiling game stacks in DFS, or when betting an over.

  • Explosive Pass Rate: The sum of an offense’s rate of 20-plus yard completions per pass attempt and the opposing defense’s rate of 20-plus yard completions allowed per pass attempt. A higher percentage is better for offenses (blue is good, red is bad).
  • Explosive Run Rate: The sum of an offense’s rate of 15-plus yard gains per rush attempt and the opposing defense’s rate of 15-plus yard runs allowed per rush attempt. A higher percentage is better for offenses (blue is good, red is bad).

These offenses breed explosive plays: Five offenses are averaging an explosive pass play on at least 10% of their dropbacks: 49ers (10.4%), Patriots (10.2%), Bengals (10.1%), Rams (10.1%) and Raiders (10%). Don’t look now, but Cincy sure looks capable of hanging with just about anyone when their passing game is clicking.

Joey football is having one helluva encore: Joe Burrow threw for an astounding 525 yards and four scores through the air during the Bengals’ 41-21 demolition over the Ravens last week, and he did so in style.

The 2020 NFL Draft’s No. 1 overall pick is PFF’s highest-graded passer since the Bengals’ returned from their Week 10 bye. It’s really not necessary to even break down Burrow’s success by a certain split; he trails only Kyler Murray and Tom Brady in PFF passing grade on the season. Only Aaron Rodgers has a higher QB rating.

What has made Burrow’s performance all the more impressive has been his ability to maintain high-level accuracy while consistently testing defenses downfield. Overall, Burrow ranks first in adjusted completion rate and has the league’s eighth-highest average target depth among 32 qualified quarterbacks.

Here’s to hoping Burrow’s massive Week 16 performance encourages coach Zac Taylor to unleash his explosive passing game more often; the Bengals rank just 15th in pass play rate in non-garbage time situations on the season, and 17th since their Week 10 bye. Things won’t be easy against the Chiefs’ fifth-ranked scoring defense, but this offense sure looks rather unstoppable when everything is clicking.

Good offense beats good defense in today’s NFL: Offenses set up to thrive in their quest to create some explosive pass plays: Rams, Buccaneers, Cardinals, Patriots, 49ers and Seahawks. The former two squads sure look a lot like true contenders to represent the NFC in the Super Bowl come February.

Did somebody say MVP?: Pick a passing stat, any stat, and there’s a good chance Tom Brady is among the leaders in it:

  • PFF passing grade: 90.2 (tied for No. 1 among 43 quarterbacks with 100-plus dropbacks)
  • QB rating: 100.2 (No. 10)
  • Adjusted completion rate
  • Passing yards: 4.580 (No. 1)
  • Passing touchdowns: 37 (No. 1)
  • Big-time throws:35 (tied for No. 1)
  • Big-time throw rate: 5.5^ (No. 10)
  • Turnover-worthy play rate: 1.8% (No. 3)

Brady has survived 31 dropped passes along the way, a mark only Trevor Lawrence (32) has surpassed.

However, this isn’t just a continuation of what happened last season. Bruce Arians’ “No risk it, no biscuit” offense regularly asked the likes of Ben Roethlisberger, Andrew Luck, Carson Palmer and Jameis Winston to attack defenses downfield with reckless abandon. Brady largely followed suit with an average target depth (aDOT) of 10.1 yards — tied with only his 2017 campaign for his highest mark since 2005. This season Brady’s 8.2 aDOT is unironically tied with Mac Jones for just the 20th-highest mark in the league.

Throwing downfield isn’t a requisite for elite quarterback or offensive play; it’s just interesting to see Brady demonstrate the full range of his powers after just two seasons in Tampa Bay. It’s not like this ability has gone anywhere; Brady is simply doing king shit when throwing to all depths of the field. Overall, he has the second-highest PFF passing grade on passes thrown behind the line of scrimmage up to nine yards downfield as well as on throws that travel at least 20 yards. The only place Brady has been somewhat mortal is on passes in the intermediate area of the field (10-19 yards), where he still comes in at a plenty respectable 15th in PFF passing grade among 38 qualified quarterbacks.

Not having Chris Godwin (knee, IR) and Mike Evans (hamstring) won’t help this latter “issue,” although Antonio Brown sure looked good in his first game action since Week 6. Brady and the Buccaneers get to feast on the Jets’ league-worst defense in yards allowed per pass attempt (8.18); don’t be surprised if the Buccaneers’ 44-year-old GOAT manages to seize back the lead in the ole betting odds from Aaron Rodgers with a blistering end to the season.

Shocker: Having good wide receivers is good for the passing business: There have been just four instances of a wide receiver averaging at least 25 PPR points per game in a single season over the past 50 years:

Now Kupp gets to feast on a banged-up Ravens secondary that doesn’t look capable of slowing down anybody at the moment. Removing Marlon Humphrey (pec, IR), Marcus Peters (knee, IR) and Jimmy Smith (covid, IR) from the equation has left this cornerback room rather depleted to say the least:

The Ravens were forced to start journeyman Daryl Worley during their Week 16 meltdown against the Bengals, while usual special teamer Robert Jackson has also been forced into action on defense in recent weeks.

Dec 13, 2021; Glendale, Arizona, USA; Los Angeles Rams wide receiver Cooper Kupp (10) against the Arizona Cardinals at State Farm Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports

Aaron Rodgers and Joe Burrow combined to throw for 793 yards and seven touchdowns without a single interception against this defense over the past two weeks; the best version of Matthew Stafford is more than capable of putting up similar gaudy numbers this Sunday.

Kupp is the easy overall WR1, while Odell Beckham and Van Jefferson are both weekly upside WR3 types inside the Rams’ sixth-ranked scoring offense. Note that OBJ (4) has more touchdowns than Baker Mayfield does to wide receivers (3) since the Browns decided to part ways with the ex-Giants veteran..

Offense is easier when the defense sucks: The only six defenses allowing an explosive pass play on at least 9% of their opponent’s dropbacks: Ravens (11.5%), Jets (11.4%), Lions (9.3%), Bengals (9.2%), Cowboys (9.1%) and Jaguars (9%). Don’t look now, but Arizona is suddenly facing a rather crucial game in order to stop their late-season slide.

Don’t let today’s political environment distract from the fact that Kyler Murray is a baller: Murray ranks first in big-time throw rate (8.4%) and fourth in turnover-worthy play rate (2.2%); nobody has been better than the 2019 NFL Draft’s No. 1 overall pick at simultaneously making “elite” high-level throws while limiting mistakes.

Of course, this passing game has taken on a different form in recent weeks. Murray has fed the following players more than three targets in two games since losing DeAndre Hopkins (knee, IR):

Kirk (PPR WR5, WR32) has out-produced both Green (WR32, WR80) and Wesley (WR65, WR40). He’s the only real recommended start out of this group and is firmly inside my top-24 receivers on the week. Treat Green and Wesley as desperate FLEX darts against a Cowboys defense that seems to be peaking at the right time. Overall, Micah Parsons and company have allowed more than 20 points just once since Week 10.

Ertz posted a 4-53-1 receiving line against this very Cowboys defense back in Week 3. He’s caught at least five passes in each of his past three games and provided TE1 production without finding the end zone. Essentially the passing game’s No. 1 option at this point, Ertz is locked in as a top-10 option at the position and someone who has a real argument as fantasy’s TE5; the only tight ends that should no doubt be ranked ahead of the ex-Eagles veteran this week are Travis Kelce, Mark Andrews, Rob Gronkowski and George Kittle.

Not every passing attack is meant to fly: The clear-cut bottom-five offenses in terms of expected failure in creating big plays through the air: Jaguars, Falcons, Football Team, Giants and Bears. Checks out; these passing “attacks” should probably be called passing “defenses” or something. You get it.

Turns out it’s not easy to be a rookie quarterback: The following table denotes rookie quarterback performance in a variety of metrics, with each player’s average rank in each leading to a cumulative ranking. Note that the ranks are among 48 signal-callers with at least 60 dropbacks this season in order to include Trey Lance

Player PFF Pass Grade YPA aComp% QB Rating Average
Mac Jones 14 22 26 22 21
Trey Lance 35 16 35 26 28
Davis Mills 38 32 23 30 30.75
Justin Fields 32 29 45 39 36.25
Trevor Lawrence 37 42 38 42 39.75
Zach Wilson 41 41 40 44 41.5

One could certainly use this to honor Mac Jones, or to point out that Davis Mills has a real argument as the season’s second-best rookie quarterback.

Ultimately, none of these rookies have put together a season that lands them inside of the league’s top-20 quarterbacks; each will need to improve quite a bit in order to fulfill their respective prophecies as a franchise quarterback.

This generation’s Andre Johnson/Allen Robinson “Great WR forced to play with one mediocre QB after another” award goes to: Terry McLaurin, who has found the end zone and/or reached 60 yards in a game just once during the second half of the season. He deserves so much better. Since entering the NFL in 2019 McLaurin has caught passes from:

Sheesh. This passing game hasn’t reached even 250 yards in a game since Week 4; McLaurin has sadly been reduced to a boom-or-bust WR3 that is far more likely to achieve the latter based on this team’s absurdly bad situation under center.

At this point McLaurin’s best chance at success is capitalizing on a deep ball or two. The main problem with this: Heinicke has arguably been the league’s single-worst passer when throwing at least 20 yards downfield:

  • PFF passing grade: 49.7 (No. 35 among 35 qualified quarterbacks)
  • Big-time throw rate: 19.4% (No. 34)
  • Turnover-worthy play rate: 16.1% (No. 35)
  • Yards per attempt: 9.7 (No. 31)
  • Adjusted completion rate: 32.3% (tied for No. 27)

I’ll be answering the heavy majority of close start/sit questions involving McLaurin with the other guy. His last shadow date with Slay in Week 15 (2-51-0) was far from ideal, and as a whole the Eagles have been the league’s third-stingiest defense in PPR points per game allowed to the position. The only player from this entire offense to feel remotely OK about starting is Antonio Gibson.

Don’t let these run games get hot: The Mount Rushmore of rushing attacks expected to find all sorts of success in creating chunk plays: Browns, Colts, Jets and Cowboys. Two of the league’s top three backs in missed tackles forced per carry reside on these squads.

Take a bow, North Carolina: PFF’s leaders in missed tackles forced per carry this season:

  1. Javonte Williams
  2. Nick Chubb
  3. Michael Carter

North Carolina must be putting a little something special in their running back room’s gatorade cooler. Unfortunately, Carter and company’s prime Week 16 matchup against the Jaguars is a thing of the past, and now they’ll have to deal with the Buccaneers’ juggernaut of a front-seven. It seems unlikely that Carter and company are all that efficient on the ground against the league’s only defense to allow fewer than 900 rushing yards to opposing backfields through 16 weeks.

It’s also unfortunate Zach Wilson hasn’t made a habit of involving the Jets’ fourth-round rookie as a receiver. Overall, Carter has never had more than three targets in a game with a fully-healthy Wilson under center and has totaled just 19 pass-game opportunities in their seven full games together; Mike White fed the talented rookie *26* targets in their three extended appearances together.

The combination of Carter’s meh pass-down role with Wilson under center and Coleman’s persistent involvement renders the rookie as nothing more than an borderline RB2 at best. There remains little weekly upside inside of the league’s 27th-ranked scoring offense; I’ll be answering the majority of start/sit questions involving Carter with the other guy.

Related content for you: Week 17 WR/CB mismatches and shadow coverages to leverage in DFS & fantasy football leagues via Ian Hartitz

Everyone loves Raymond a three-down running back: Kareem Hunt (ankle) has been activated from the covid list, but coach Kevin Stefanski said the lingering ankle injury would have held Hunt out of Week 16 as well. There’s far too much uncertainty surrounding Hunt’s health to treat him as anything more than a low-floor RB3 if active; Nick Chubb figures to lead the way regardless, and there’s no way of knowing how far below 100 percent the ex-Chiefs’ talent could be at come Monday night.

The good news: Chubb has the potential to go the hell off against the Steelers’ league-worst defense in yards before contact allowed per carry. It’s annoying that the Browns haven’t taken a similar approach as the Colts have with their best offensive threat and force fed Chubb the football, but he’s still racked up at least 20 touches in four of his five games since returning from injury.

Don’t expect too many scoring opportunities inside of an offense that has surpassed 24 points on exactly one occasion since Week 5, but Chubb should still be fired up as a low-end RB1 at worst regardless of whether or not Hunt winds up suiting up. Johnson isn’t a realistic fantasy option due to his sub-five touch floor.

These offenses might just want to pass the ball: Offenses that look pretty screwed in creating big plays on the ground this week: Dolphins, Texans, Seahawks and Packers. Luckily the latter two running back rooms are condensed enough to still provide some solid fantasy value. Yes, this is implying that I’m not chasing Rex Burkhead’s (fabulous) Week 16 performance; there’s a small difference between facing the Chargers (No. 22 in yards before contact per rush) and the 49ers (No. 1).

The J stands for January: Aaron Jones has out-touched and out-snapped A.J. Dillon in consecutive weeks after losing out in both categories during his first two games back from injury. The good news: This Vikings run defense might just be atrocious enough to enable both backs to RB2 goodness.

  • Rush yards per attempt allowed: 4.7 (No. 29)
  • Rush yards before contact per attempt allowed: 1.7 (No. 29)
  • PPR points per game allowed to running backs: 24.5 (tied for No. 22)
  • EPA/run play allowed: +0.018 (No. 31)

The latter bullet is particularly egregious: The Vikings join the Chargers as the league’s only two defenses allowing positive EPA per run play.

Green Bay has ripped off 31, 36, 45, 31 and 24 points over the past five weeks. They stand as one of just seven offenses implied to score at least 27 points in Week 17; this sort of cozy ceiling with Aaron Rodgers under center makes any of the group’s key contributors solid-enough fantasy options. Fire up Jones as the mid-tier RB2 that he’s functioned as in back-to-back weeks (RB13, RB19), while Dillon is better approached as a touchdown-dependent RB3 that sure looks like a solid enough candidate to find the promised land in this aforementioned cozy matchup.

Rashaad Penny? More like Rashaad Dollar: Penny has returned PPR RB33, RB3, RB42 and RB9 production in the Seahawks’ last four games. It makes sense that the two top-12 performances came in rather great matchups against the Texans and Bears, while the duds were against the 49ers and Rams.

Luckily for Penny: Week 17’s matchup against the Lions certainly qualifies as something fantasy managers should be awfully excited about. They’ve allowed more than a few big games to opposing backs on the ground this season:

Fire up Penny as a legit upside RB2 as a 7-point home favorite against one of just seven defenses to allow at least 27 PPR points per game to opposing backfields. None of the Seahawks’ additional backs are worthy of fantasy consideration.

Pace

Fast-paced games lead to more plays, which lead to more points. Every week usually consists of at least a few games that could resemble a track meet based on their combined situation-neutral pace (Football Outsiders).

  • Combined Situation-Neutral Pace: Represents the combined situation-neutral pace between each matchup’s two offenses. A lower number indicates fewer average seconds per play (blue = fast-paced game), while a higher number indicates more average seconds per play (red = slow-paced game).

Get ready to see a track meet: This week’s sponsored Ricky Bobby “I want to go fast” highest-projected matchup features the Cardinals (No. 6 in situation neutral pace) at the Cowboys (No. 1). Honorable mention goes to the Buccaneers (No. 2) at the Jets (No. 13). Sure would be a lot cooler if literally any of the prime time games didn’t resemble a snail race.

We’ll be moving plenty fast elsewhere too: More matchups expected to feature plenty of total plays include Rams-Ravens, Falcons-Bills and Eagles-Football Team. Cool cool cool.

Unfortunately some offenses are slow and lame: The single-slowest matchup of the week pits the Raiders (No. 18) at the Colts (No. 32). You know what, I don’t blame Frank Reich for limiting the amount of plays Carson Wentz has to screw up. 

Seriously, what are you waiting for: More matchups that might not supply the sort of volume fantasy managers are hoping for include Texans-49ers, Lions-Seahawks, Vikings-Packers and Browns-Steelers. Petition to move the latter game to Mars.

PFF Greenline uses exclusive game and player data to make projections on NFL game spreads, moneyline, and over/under.

Pressure

An overmatched offensive line can result in poor fantasy days for all skill-position players involved. Meanwhile, QBs with all day to throw can help generate points in bunches. We can determine which offensive lines might be especially better (or worse) this week with help from PFF’s offensive and defensive pressure statistics.

  • Combined Pressure Rate: The sum of the offensive line’s rate of pressures allowed per dropback and the opposing defense’s total pressures generated per dropback. A higher percentage (red) is better for defenses and indicates that quarterback could be under fire, while a lower percentage (blue) indicates that matchup’s quarterback could face reduced pressure.

Under pressure: good song, bad for fantasy football: Quarterbacks that could feel the heat this week include: Ryan Tannehill, Matt Ryan, Tua Tagovailoa, Zach Wilson and Carson Wentz. Here’s to hoping this group at least has enough time to enable some of the beastly WR1s involved.

It’s always AJB WR1 szn: A.J. Brown caught 11 of a career-high 16 targets for 145 yards and a score in his first game action since Week 11. The impact on Ryan Tannehill wasn’t hard to see, as he posted his best PFF passing grade (80.0) since Week 9 and averaged 7.0 yards per attempt for the first time since Week 10.

This Titans’ passing game reaches another level when AJB is at his best … because the third-year talent is truly one of the best players at his position. Brown has posted the following finishes in yards per route run during his short career:

  • 2019: 2.67 yards per route run (No. 3 among all wide receivers with 50-plus targets)
  • 2020: 2.65 (No. 3)
  • 2021: 2.52 (No. 7)

Overall, only Davante Adams, Cooper Kupp, Justin Jefferson and Antonio Brown have a higher PFF receiving grade than Brown; you don’t need more than two hands to count the number of wide receivers better than the Titans’ 24-year-old stud.

The Dolphins blitz more than anyone and also happen to employ two of the league’s better outside cornerbacks in Byron Jones and Xavien Howard; Tennessee needs AJB to be at his best in order to keep this newfound offensive momentum riding high into the playoffs (playoffs?).

Then he waddled away, waddle, waddle: Jaylen Waddle in eight full starts with Tua Tagovailoa: PPR WR26, WR4, WR16, WR60, WR11, WR1, WR15 and WR8. The 2021 NFL Draft’s No. 6 overall pick has converted 126 targets into a robust 96-941-5 receiving line, chipping in a short rushing score along the way. Guess who has given up the most explosive pass plays (15-plus yards) to slot receivers this season? Continue to fire up Waddle as an upside WR2 who is a particular godsend in full-PPR formats.

No other wide receiver in this offense is worthy of serious fantasy consideration. DeVante Parker wasn’t targeted despite nearly running as many routes (29) as Waddle (32) on Tua’s 33 dropbacks. It marked the first time all season Parker failed to catch at least four passes; he’s nothing more than a meh WR4 against a Titans defense that has been far better in yards per attempt allowed to wide receivers lined up outside (8.4, 17th) compared to the slot (9.5, 28th).

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Some offensive lines and quarterbacks are just more prone to pressure: The Dolphins, Titans, Panthers and Seahawks are the league’s only five offenses that have been pressured on at least 35% of their dropbacks this season. But c’mon Russ: It’s the Lions. Can we get back to cooking already?

2021 Russ uses an air fryer (not that there’s anything wrong with that): The Seahawks simply haven’t been the same juggernaut through the air this season. Yes, Pete Carroll has regularly limited Russell Wilson’s true ability to cook by generally featuring a run-first offense over the years. Also yes, 2021 marks the first time in Wilson’s career that he hasn’t operated a top-tier passing attack in terms of EPA per pass play:

  • 2021: -0.047 EPA per pass play (No. 21)
  • 2020: +0.123 (No. 12)
  • 2019: +0.110 (No. 8)
  • 2018: +0.148 (No. 7)
  • 2017: +0.069 (No. 10)
  • 2016: +0.063 (No. 14)
  • 2015: +0.262 (No. 1)
  • 2014: +0.111 (No. 10)
  • 2013: +0.186 (No. 4)
  • 2012: +0.156 (No. 5)

Sadly, there hasn’t been much of a change in performance between Wilson and backup Geno Smith this season. Russ leads the way in yards per attempt (7.7 vs. 7.4), but Geno has been more accurate (80.5% adjusted completion vs. 72.9) and accordingly posted a better QB rating (103 vs. 99.4) as well as PFF passing grade (73.0 vs. 67.8).

Week 17’s home matchup against the Lions *should* yield the sort of get-right spot that this passing game badly needs. After all, Detroit ranks among the league’s bottom-three defenses in both yards per attempt and explosive pass play rate allowed; good luck containing D.K. Metcalf and Tyler Lockett … as long as Russ is at least somewhat close to his usual self.

Sundial joke about having a ton of time to throw: Tom Brady, Josh Allen and Dak Prescott are set up the best to work from consistently clean pockets this week. Don’t look meow, but Allen is well on his way to repeating as the overall fantasy QB1.

I truly love Buffalo wings more than any food other than steak: Fantasy football has evolved as passing games have become more and more lethal over the years. And yet, one of the commonalities over time has been the dominance of dual-threat quarterbacks. Racking up production in both the pass and run game has made this player archetype a bit of a cheat code in the great American pastime.

Since 2000 there have been 14 different quarterbacks to serve as the overall fantasy QB1, but you have to go all the way back to 2003-2004 to find the last time that one repeated with the honor. This was achieved by none other than Daunte Culpepper, who managed to throw specifically Randy Moss not one, not two, but 30 touchdowns during that span.

Enter: Allen, who worked as the fantasy QB1 in 2020 and continues to sit pretty atop the throne as we enter Week 17. Allen has had an awfully great WR1 to throw the ball to himself in Stefon Diggs, but Allen’s true differentiator as a fantasy asset over the years has been his consistent ability to find the end zone as a rusher. Overall, Allen ranks 10th in rushing touchdowns (29) since entering the league in 2018; Lamar Jackson (21), Cam Newton (21) and Kyler Murray (20) are the only other quarterbacks even close.

Up next is a dream spot against the Falcons’ third-worst defense in fantasy points per game allowed to opposing quarterbacks. Get your popcorn ready.

Pass rushes that haunt the dreams of your favorite quarterback: The league’s best pass rushes feature the Dolphins, Packers, Buccaneers, Bills, Cowboys and Rams above all else. So the Dolphins have the single-worst offensive line in pressure rate, but the best defense at consistently getting after the quarterback. Practice must be hell for Tua.

The league’s finest individual rushers of the passer: Just nine defenders have racked up at least 60 pressures this season: Maxx Crosby (86 pressures), Aaron Donald (81), Shaquil Barrett (75), Myles Garrett (71), Trey Hendrickson (71), Nick Bosa (70), Raashan Gary (68) and Joey Bosa (62) and Emmanuel Ogbah (60). Those Bosa brothers are scary good.

Trench Battles

RBs receive most of the praise for an offense’s rushing output, but an overmatched offensive line can thwart a team’s run game before it even has a chance to get started. We can determine the offensive lines that might be especially better (or worse) off this week by looking at yards before contact.

  • Combined Yards Before Contact Per Rush: The sum of an offensive line’s adjusted line yards per rush and the opposing defense’s adjusted line yards allowed per rush. A higher number (blue) is good for running backs, while a lower number (red) indicates that matchup’s offense could have some trouble consistently running the ball.

Great day to be a great running back: The Mount Rushmore of backfields set up well to run the ball this week: Eagles, Bills, Cardinals and Browns. Of course, the former three squads also involve the quarterback in the run game.

It Hurts being this good: Miles Sanders (hand) is out for at least this week, while Jordan Howard (stinger) also isn’t a guarantee to suit up.

This makes Boston Scott the player to target ahead of a smashable matchup against the same Football Team that just surrendered 56 points to the Cowboys. The Eagles fed him the following workloads in three games without Sanders:

  • Week 8: 45% snaps. 12-60-2 rushing, 0-0-0 receiving
  • Week 9: 44% snaps, 10-40-0 rushing, 0-0-0 receiving
  • Week 10: 31% snaps, 11-81-0 rushing, 2-24-0 receiving

Note that Kenneth Gainwell has been rendered as nothing more than a garbage-time accumulator for the better part of the last three months; Scott will be sitting pretty as an upside RB2 if Howard winds up joining Sanders on the sideline. Prioritize Scott over Howard if both are active; just realize a more split early-down role would lead to both functioning as something closer to touchdown-dependent RB3s.

Check out the Tuesday edition of The PFF Fantasy Football Podcast for more thoughts on Scott and the week’s top waiver wire options.

A clear-cut lead RB in Buffalo? In this economy?: Matt Breida was inactive in place of Zack Moss last week, but that didn’t stop Devin Singletary from continuing to dominate usage. He’s posted the following usage in five games since the Bills were drubbed by the Colts:

  • Week 12: 68% snaps, 15-44-0 rushing, 1-4-0 receiving 
  • Week 13: 48% snaps, 10-36-0 rushing, 0-0-0 receiving 
  • Week 14: 82% snaps, 4-52-0 rushing, 6-37-0 receiving
  • Week 15: 93% snaps, 22-86-1 rushing, 1-10-0 receiving 
  • Week 16: 68% snaps, 12-39-1 rushing, 5-39-0 receiving

The first two performances demonstrate that Singletary is hardly guaranteed to put up monster numbers even with a lead back role in an offense that regularly features Josh Allen as a rusher near the goal line, but the latter three games produced PPR RB14, RB7 and most-recently RB10 goodness in fantasy land.

Nov 7, 2021; Jacksonville, Florida, USA; Buffalo Bills running back Devin Singletary (26) runs with the ball in the first half against the Jacksonville Jaguars at TIAA Bank Field. Credit: Nathan Ray Seebeck-USA TODAY Sports

Allen is too involved as a rusher and anti-checkdown to fire up Singletary as a legit RB1, but he’s still a recommended start against the Falcons’ bottom-10 defense in PPR points per game allowed to the position. The Bills could certainly see plenty of positive game script considering their status as 14.5-point home favorites; nobody is implied to score more points (29.5) on the week. Singletary is a comfortable RB2 play that should be in fantasy lineups of most shapes and sizes ahead of this borderline dream spot.

Personal note: Check out my Week 17 Backfield Report for more specific information on the league's ever-evolving running back stables.

More running backs expected to have a little thing called success: The Buccaneers, Colts and Vikings also stand out as groups that should see more open lanes than usual this week. It remains to be seen if Carson Wentz (covid, IR) will suit up this week, but would you fade Jonathan Taylor even if there was a random fan playing quarterback? Just something to think about.

Kings stay kings: Taylor’s PPR RB24 “dud” in Week 16 marked the first time that he failed to finish as a PPR RB1 since Week 3. His 12 finishes inside the position’s top-12 backs are still three more than anyone else can attest to having; there remains little to no reason to treat the Colts’ ridiculously talented second-year back as anything other than fantasy’s top-overall player. Potentially losing Wentz isn’t ideal, but this is till the Raiders’ 30th-ranked defense in PPR points per game allowed to opposing running backs that we’re talking about here. There’s a case to be made that JT could still produce a top-12 finish more weeks with a random reader of this column playing quarterback; don’t you dare overthink this situation with fantasy championship glory on the line.

You’ve gotta be RoJo’ing me: Credit to Ke’Shawn Vaughn for busting off a monster touchdown run, but Ronald Jones was the clear leader of this backfield in both the rushing and receiving departments. His PPR RB12 finish was certainly aided by the Buccaneers being able to play with an extreme positive game script against the lowly Panthers; good thing a constant double-digit lead is once again expected this week against the Jets.

No defense has been worse than the Jets in PPR points per game allowed to opposing backfields. This sort of volume doesn’t exactly fall off of trees; the following five running backs are the only players PFF projects to see at least 20 touches in Week 17:

RoJo is locked in as an upside RB1 as the lead back inside of the league’s second-ranked scoring offense. Neith Vaughn nor Bell are worthy of fantasy consideration due to their respective status as a clear-cut backup.

Gotta love a good run game scheme: Only four offenses are averaging at least 1.7 yards before contact per carry: Eagles (1.99), Ravens (1.87), Chiefs (1.77) and Bills (1.7). Call me crazy, but having a mobile quarterback might just help matters.

Best Steven Tyler voice: Run away, run away from the pain yeah, yeah, yeah, yeah, yeah: The Texans, Falcons, Saints, Dolphins and Panthers look like the most screwed offenses in terms of expected success on the ground before contact. Alvin Kamara has posted PPR RB51 and RB35 finishes over the past two weeks. He finished as the RB37 against the Panthers back in Week 2. Note that he posted just three finishes outside of the position’s top-30 backs in 2019-2020 combined. It remains next to impossible to rationalize sitting Kamara; just realize the ceiling is far lower than in past years.

PFF’s OL/DL Matchup Chart is a fantasy football tool you can use to help set the best lineups. You can use this chart to find advantageous fantasy football matchups for run blocking (run) or for pass blocking (pass).

Passing Game

Some pass offenses are obviously more efficient than others, while certain secondaries are seemingly capable of shutting down any aerial attack. We can determine the week’s biggest mismatches in the passing game using each offense and defense’s pass yards per dropback.

  • Combined Passing Yards Per Dropback: The sum of an offense’s passing yards per dropback and the opposing defense’s passing yards allowed per dropback. A higher number (blue) is good for quarterbacks and receivers, while a lower number (red) indicates that matchup’s pass offense could be in trouble.

Sometimes it just looks so easy: Matthew Stafford, Tom Brady and whoever the hell will be under center for the 49ers stand out as the week’s top-three quarterbacks in expected success through the air.

*Best Bruce Buffer voice* IT’S TIME: It seems likely that Trey Lance will be under center with Jimmy Garoppolo (thumb) banged up. The rookie fed Deebo Samuel a team-high nine targets in his lone sport start of the season, although that game didn’t include George Kittle, and Brandon Aiyuk (71% snaps) was still somewhat in Kyle Shanahan’s doghouse.

Perhaps the most telling part of Lance’s NFL debut was the reality that he only threw the ball 29 games in a contest that featured the 49ers in comeback mode for pretty much the entire game. There’s already usually been one odd man out between Samuel, Kittle and Aiyuk with Jimmy G under center; expecting Lance or an injured version of Garoppolo to enable more than one high-end producer this week seems like wishful thinking, particularly against the Texans’ 25th-ranked defense in rush yards before contact allowed per carry.

Samuel is a borderline WR1 who should continue to be started in leagues of all shapes and sizes due to the reality that Shanahan has found a way to keep him heavily involved as either a rusher and/or receiver all season long. Aiyuk is more of a low-end WR3 this week who probably shouldn’t be prioritized in close start/sit questions, particularly if Lance winds up being under center. Opponents have run the ball against the Texans at the league’s third-most run-heavy rate this season; don’t expect the league’s fourth-most run-heavy offense to change that trend..

The government calls it a passing league for a reason: The Patriots, Bengals, Seahawks, Cardinals and Packers also stand out as passing attacks that should have plenty of success through the air. Of course, it’s hard to see anyone slowing down Aaron Rodgers and company when they’re operating at this high of a level.

60% of the time, Davante Adams works every time against the Vikings: Adams is the only receiver Patrick Peterson has been asked to shadow all season. The result: 7-115-2 on eight targets. Yes, not all of that production occurred in Peterson’s direct coverage. Also yes, we don’t care how the numbers get there in fantasy land, just so long as they do.

Adams has scored and/or surpassed 100 yards in five consecutive games; he, Jefferson and Cooper Kupp are probably the hottest-three wide receivers in the league at the moment. Don’t be surprised if Mike Zimmer’s group (again) underwhelms; there simply isn’t anyone in this secondary capable of checking Davante Adams and company:

Overall, this defense ranks among the league’s bottom-six units in yards per attempt (8.97) and explosive pass play rate (22.8%) allowed to wide receivers. It’s safe to say “cornerback” will be the top team need for this squad once we start to look at that sort of stuff in February.

Green Bay Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers (12) celebrates with wide receiver Davante Adams (17) after scoring a touchdown Saturday, December 25, 2021. Credit: Dan Powers/USA TODAY NETWORK-Wisconsin

Adams has posted 5-54-1, 8-64-1, 5-69-1, 7-106-0, 13-116-0, 14-156-2, 7-53-3 and most-recently 7-115-2 receiving lines against this group since 2017; don’t expect this streak of 100-plus yards and/or a score to end against the purple people eaters barring a miracle of sorts.

These passing games might be a bit rough n’ rowdy: The Jaguars, Falcons and Jets look like the bottom-three offenses this week in terms of expected aerial success. The Panthers, Saints, Football Team and Bears don’t look to be in especially great spots, either; sometimes wide receivers are good enough to just win anyway.

Don’t be a victim of recency bias: Russell Gage is the only viable wide receiver in this passing game. He’s posted the following performances in his past six games:

  • Week 11: 5 receptions-49 yards-0 touchdown (8 targets)
  • Week 12: 6-62-1 (7)
  • Week 13: 11-130-0 (12)
  • Week 14: 4-64-0 (6)
  • Week 15: 8-91-1 (12)
  • Week 16: 4-39-0 (5)

Last week’s PPR WR60 dud certainly wasn’t ideal; that doesn’t change that fact that Gage has posted top-14 finishes in three of the last five weeks. Alas, this week’s matchup is probably difficult enough to warrant sitting Gage in close start/sit questions. His volume continues to keep him in the upper tier of the WR3 conversation, but this potentially windy and snowy road spot against the league’s single-best defense in PPR points per game allowed to the position certainly isn’t ideal. I’d start guys like Odell Beckham, Van Jefferson and Marquise Brown over Gage without thinking twice.

And the cow jumped over the Moon(ey): A-Rob still doesn’t feel back to normal from dealing with “beast” of Covid-19. He’s unplayable this week due to the heavy potential for a limited role, nevermind the fact that the veteran has finished inside the position’s top-45 receivers on exactly one occasions (WR32 in Week 9) all season.

Credit to Damiere Byrd on last week’s truly spectacular game-winning two-point conversion catch, but Darnell Mooney remains the only viable fantasy receiver in this offense. He’s posted the following fantasy finishes with Justin Fields (ankle) under center since September ended:

  • Week 4: PPR WR15
  • Week 5: WR66
  • Week 6: WR22
  • Week 7: WR51
  • Week 8: WR30
  • Week 9: WR6
  • Week 11: WR4
  • Week 15: WR23

Mooney — like literally everyone else in this offense — carries a low weekly floor, but WR2 or better finishes in five of eight qualified games isn’t anything to scoff at. The Giants stand as the league’s sixth-worst defense in PPR points per game allowed to opposing wide receivers through 16 weeks; fire up Mooney as a WR3 with sneaky upside; I’d start him over the likes of DeVonta Smith, Terry McLaurin and Jakobi Meyers.

Not so fast my friend: Offenses that haven’t averaged even 5.6 pass yards per dropback this season: Jaguars, Panthers, Giants and Bears. I know I already gave Terry McLaurin the Andre Johnson/Allen Robinson “Great WR forced to play with one mediocre QB after another” award, but D.J. Moore was also on the ballot.

Go DJ, that’s my DJ: This Panthers passing game hasn’t surpassed 250 passing yards in a game since Week 4. Moore’s early-season dominance is a thing of the past; the talented 24-year-old receiver hasn’t finished inside the position’s top-20 producers since Week 4 and has limped to WR31, WR29 and WR44 finishes over the past three weeks. Robby Anderson (WR6, WR36, WR42) has been the superior producer in two of these three games.

Matt Rhule is rotating quarterbacks and comparing himself to Jay-Z; this is rock bottom. Only the Jaguars (13.25) and Falcons (15) are implied to score fewer points than the Panthers (15.5) this week. Only Giants-Bears (37.5) has a lower game total than Panthers-Saints (38). Moore and (to a lesser extent) Anderson are low-end WR3 types that don’t need to be forced into starting lineups by any stretch of the imagination.

Dope secondaries always have the best nicknames: The Bills, Patriots, Buccaneers, Packers, Panthers, Eagles and Raiders are the only seven defenses to allow fewer than 6.0 pass yards per dropback. It’s a good thing Tampa Bay’s pass defense has turned things around as the season has gone on considering TB12 and company don’t look quite so hot these days without Chris Godwin (ACL, IR) and Mike Evans (hamstring/covid, IR).

EPA

Points are ultimately what wins football games. We can measure the expected points of every play on offense and defense by considering the down, distance and field position before factoring in the result. Estimated points added (EPA) is thus the value of a play that takes context into account and thereby better measures efficiency at the play level.

  • Combined EPA: The sum of an offense’s EPA/play and their opposing defense’s EPA/play allowed. A higher number (blue) is good for offenses, while a lower number (red) indicates that offense could be in trouble.

Blowout alert: The clear top-five matchups in terms of one offense likely having a huge relative advantage over their opponent: Buccaneers over Jets, Bills over Falcons, 49ers over Texans, Patriots over Jaguars and Eagles over the Football Team. Philly only being -3.5 favorites over Washington is interesting. And that’s all I have to say about that.

Over alert: The highest combined matchups in expected offensive success: Vikings-Packers, Rams-Ravens, Broncos-Chargers and Chiefs-Bengals. This early Sunday slate has the potential to be awesome. Here’s to hoping I didn’t just jinx it.

Under alert: Panthers-Saints, Giants-Bears and Dolphins-Titans stand out as the week’s two matchups that could feature the most overall offensive futility. It should be illegal to have a game total that starts with a three in modern day society.

Upset alert: This marks the first week all season that there isn’t at least one team expected to have a relative offensive advantage, yet are underdogs. Great day to be great either way.

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