Indianapolis @ Minnesota
Minnesota sits at 10-3 and is the second seed in the NFC, but simultaneously are only 4-point home favorites to the 4-8-1 Indianapolis Colts. Last week the Vikings showed their colors when the Lions beat them by 11. The string of single-score game victory after single-score game victory finally broke. While the Vikings stand as the current second seed in the NFC, the Vikings’ opponents have outscored them. The Colts were trounced two weeks ago by the Cowboys and are now coming off of their bye. According to betting markets, the Vikings are only ~2.5 points better than the Colts on a neutral field, so this game is well within the Colts' reach for a fifth win.
As I wrote about last week, the Vikings operate around offensive player of the year favorite Justin Jefferson. Jefferson tore apart the Lions' defense single-handedly, but his efforts were not enough to secure a win. Jefferson turned 15 targets into 11 catches and 223 yards. This increased his yards per route run to 2.93 and his target share to 29.6%. Outside Jefferson, Thielen and Hockenson make up the other pivotal parts of the Vikings’ passing attack. The upside Thielen provided in years past appears gone, as he has surpassed 10 points since the week seven bye.
Dalvin Cook had one of his least efficient and impressive games last week. Cook churned out 23 yards on the ground from 15 carries, 1.5 yards per carry. Cook should continue to see the bulk of the backfield touches. He has seen 75% or more of snaps in the last two weeks. While the volume will remain, the environment Cook operates within inspires little to no confidence. The Vikings have the sixth-worst success rate per rush at 37.3%. Few holes are opening for Cook to thrust himself through, and he no longer looks able to overcome these circumstances.
No one can mistake the colts for an offensive powerhouse. Few hoped the Colts' offense would propel their success even before the season, instead favoring a solid defense. Unfortunately for Colts fans, both units have performed inadequately to this point. The Colts have scored the second least points in the league, averaging only 16.1 points per game. With the feeble state of this offense, touchdowns have been hard to come by. The offense, as a whole, averages less than 1.5 offensive touchdowns per game.
The silver lining for Colts backers is that the offensive stats are concentrated. Jonathan Taylor has handled over 70% of rushing attempts and has played over 70% of snaps each of the last four weeks. In two of those weeks, Taylor was on the field for at least 92% of snaps. Despite not being the ideal season for Taylor, he continues to see enough opportunities week over week that he is a running back one.
Michael Pittman represents the other cornerstone of the Colts’ offense. Pittman has commanded a 25% target share. Regrettably, Matt Ryan helms the Colts’ offense, severely limiting the offensive capabilities and downfield looks for receivers. Pittman’s average depth of target is 6.7 yards, similar to the likes of Evan Engram and Curtis Samuel. Pittman does not have a couple of long bombs in his range of outcomes, but he is a near lock for high single-digit targets. Pittman may not be the most exciting option to trout out, but he has a respectable median outcome.
Both defenses look mediocre when analyzing success rate per play and expected points added per play. The Colts do have the advantage when it comes to passing defense. They have been able to maintain one of the lower EPA/pass in the league. This is the opposite of the Vikings, who have let up an EPA/pass worse than ~ 75% of NFL defenses in the last three years. The Colts will have a slight defensive advantage. Capitalizing early on this exploitable Vikings' defense will be key. Falling behind could throw off the Colts’ game plan significantly.
Take the guaranteed volume with Jonathan Taylor (+2) over Justin Jefferson and Michael Pittman over Adam Thielen (+0.5).
Miami @ Buffalo
The Miami Dolphins have experienced a rough patch lately, losing two games in a row and failing to eclipse 20 points. The offense has stagnated and looked defendable against two bright defense minds in Brandon Staley and DeMeco Ryans. Were these games aberrations, possibly purely matchup related, or has the league seen the blueprint to defeat Mike McDaniel’s offense? The Buffalo Bills will look to continue the trend to get one step closer to the AFC one-seed.
As previously mentioned, the Miami offense has sputtered of late. When looking at the season, Miami ranks in the top 10 of scoring, expected points added per play and success rate. The air attack runs through their two dynamic receivers, Jaylen Waddle and Tyreek Hill. Tyreek Hill has the highest yards per route run on the season out of players with 250+ snaps at 3.59, and Jaylen Waddle trails by slightly over a yard at 2.55 yards per route run. Waddles YPRR still ranks 11th overall, that is how much Hill outpaces the field. Tyreek enters this outing slightly banged up but was left off the final injury report.
The Dolphins’ run game has substantially lagged behind the passing attack this year. The Dolphins rank 20th and 22nd in success rate on rushing plays and EPA/rush. Last week they had to abandon the run early as they found themselves in a quick deficit. Another contributing factor may have been Jeff Wilson’s injury. Wilson missed practice on Wednesday and registered a limited session on Thursday, and he remains questionable for the game. This could lead to more opportunities for Raheem Mostert. Mostert has disappointed on the ground, but a substantial role in an interesting offense could always lead to fantasy delights.
Similar to the Dolphins, the Buffalo offense has regressed from its early season dynamism. Also, the Bills operate primarily through the air, similar to the dolphins. The passing game has gone through Stefon Diggs and a mishmash of secondary and tertiary receivers. Diggs has logged a 28.7% target share on the season, 7th highest in the NFL. On his looks, Diggs has delivered as well with 2.68 yards per route run. After Diggs, the next highest yards per route run on the Bills is Gabriel Davis’s 1.56 yards per route run. Davis operates as a boom-bust option at receiver and has fizzled for the last while.
The Bills’ rushing game has gotten significantly harder to figure out recently. The Bills pass 7% over expected across situations and have instituted a three-way committee consisting of Devin Singletary, Nyheim Hines and James Cook. Singletary once operated as the clear favorite back, but no back has eclipsed 50% of snaps in the last two weeks. Prior to the last couple of weeks, Singletary regularly played more than 70% of snaps. Trusting any player for this backfield could be a fool's errand. While the upside remains with each player, pinpointing who will deliver weekly is too tricky.
On the defensive side of the ball, both defenses could push the opposing offense to favor the pass even more. The Dolphins allow the 7th lowest success rate per rush. On the other side, the Bills allow the 4th lowest EPA/rush. The pass defense has been middle for both sides. Lately, This has been more true of the Bills as they deal with injuries. The weather remains another factor playing into this game. Playing in Buffalo this week likely involves low sustained winds with gusts into the mid-20s miles per hour area. The wind could give Buffalo a distinct advantage, as they are used to the weather. Additionally, Josh Allen has a much stronger arm than Tua Tagovailoa.
Take Tua Tagovailoa (+1) over Deshaun Watson, Tyreek Hill (+1) over Stefon Diggs and Raheem Mostert over Devin Singletary.
Last week got us back on track with a fade of Jamaal Williams and backing Amon-Ra St. Brown. Despite seeing 15 carries and scoring a touchdown, Dalvin Cook could not muster double-digit points against the paltry Lions' defense. Cook’s disappointment let Williams stop a 3-0 sweep from the Lions vs. Vikings game. 2-1 is not an outcome to scoff at.
I think the process was sound for my Jaguars call, but unfortunately, Kirk did not get in on the fun. Fading Jerry Jeudy was regrettable. The Chiefs will push whoever they play. Seeing Lawrence erupt in the perfect spot was satisfying. A 3-2 week where we had a good shot at another win, so it was a strong outing overall.
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TPRR is courtesy of the 33rd Team and Sports Info Solutions and success rate data is from rbsdm.com.