Detroit @ Minnesota
Minnesota sits at 10-2 and is the second seed in the NFC, but simultaneously shows as 2.5-point underdogs to the 5-7 Detroit Lions. Many record watchers will not understand this apparent blasphemy, but the underlying metrics for the Vikings have trailed their record all season long. Kudos to the Vikings for outkicking their coverage in the record column, but maintaining this discrepancy between underlying metrics and actualized record is unsustainable. The Vikings only sport a positive 10-point differential. For reference, the two other best NFC teams, the Cowboys and Eagles, have point differentials of 112 and 127 points.
The Vikings have a bevy of interesting offensive weapons but miraculously rate around league average in nearly all metrics. The third favorite for Offensive Player of the Year, Justin Jefferson, leads the receiving corps. Jefferson has already topped 1200 receiving yards with five more games to go. While volume is necessary to enable counting stats like receiving yards, his efficiency is also awe-inspiring. Jefferson averages 2.71 yards per route run, 5th among players with 500+ snaps. The second receiver on the team, Adam Thielen, has not performed to his historical standards. Thielen has drawn 19.6% targets per route run but turned that into only 1.34 yards per route run. Trade acquisition, T.J. Hockenson, has effectively become the second receiver on the team. Seeing an identical targets per route run to Theilen on the year, Hockenson has averaged 1.69 yards per route run. This passing offense lives and dies with Justin Jefferson, but T.J. Hockenson has become inordinately valuable in the wasteland of tight ends.
Detroit’s Amon-Ra St. Brown has ascended to the elite tier of wide receivers next to Jefferson. St. Brown has commanded a 33.4% target per route run rate and turned it into 2.80 yards per route run. Alongside St. Brown, D.J. Chark has returned to become a downfield threat. The interesting piece to watch out for will be Jameson Williams, who looks to make his rookie debut. Many believed Williams to be the most impressive option in this year’s draft, but his injury caused him to fall below other options. Williams did not fall far, as the Lions traded up to take him at 12 overall. Jared Goff has performed well as a distributor and has even more talent around him now.
The return of DeAndre Swift to health provides the Lions with another influx of talent. Swift took more than 50% of snaps last week for the first time in months. The backfield will function as a committee, with Jamaal Williams as the bruiser and Swift as the shift back in space. Swift projects to mix in for goal line packages and see almost all receiving work. Williams has not seen a target since October. Touchdowns have propped up Williams, nearly all of which came from inside the three yards line. If these touches come under fire, Williams will lose the majority of his value. Fantasy managers should prefer Swift after the uptick in usage last week.
The most bullish stats for the Vikings' offense will assuredly come in the section about the Lions' defense. The Lions have struggled to defend on the ground and through the air. The Lions allow top-5 expected points added per pass, expected points added per rush, success rate per pass and success rate per rush. There is no facet of the game in which the Lions will slow down opponents. If they can execute, which the Vikings have proved quite capable of, the Vikings should pile up points this week. As previously mentioned, the Vikings rate as near league average in all stats, and defense is no exception. The Vikings' defense is slightly below average and should have its hands complete with a Lions offense that is quite frisky.
Back DeAndre Swift over Jamaal Williams (+1.5), Amon-Ra St. Brown (+1) over CeeDee Lamb and Dalvin Cook over Jamaal Williams (+5).
Jacksonville @ Tennessee
Entering week 14, the Tennessee Titans have nearly locked up the division once again. At 7-5, they have three more wins than any team in the division. Similar to the previous matchup, taking record at face value would inflate one's thought of the home team here. The Jaguars have a better point differential than the Titans despite having three fewer wins and a near 0% chance of making the playoffs. A couple of bounces of the ball separate these evenly-matched teams.
The Titans come into this matchup looking lethargic in recent weeks on the offensive side of the ball. Derrick Henry has averaged less than 3.2 yards per carry in his last four games, and the offense has topped 20 points once in this span. The return of Treylon Burks has been one of the lone bright spots for the Titans’ passing game in recent weeks. On the year, Burks has averaged ~2.3 yards per route run, 27th among players with 100 or more snaps. His absence will assuredly be felt this week.
The other intriguing part of the Titans' passing game has been Chig Okonkwo, a rookie tight end. Chig has the 5th highest yards per route run at 3.13 this year. The injury-riddled receiving corps must rely on Chig to continue his impressive efficiency. Okonkwo entered the league with little receiving experience but an impressive athletic profile, which he has displayed frequently in his rookie year. Okonkwo has gains of over 40 yards in three games and over 20 yards in five games. As he continues to gain more work in the offense the Titans need Okonkwo to continue to deliver explosive plays through the air.
Across the field from the Titans, the Jaguars will look toward their young offensive talents to propel them to victory this week. Travis Etienne returned from injury last week to a full workload. Unfortunately for his backers, the Jaguars fell behind early, thus limiting his work on the ground. To start the season, Etienne looked like a bust getting passed over for third-year veteran James Robinson. This pattern did not hold as Robinson’s inefficiencies showed, and Etienne showcased his explosiveness. Etienne ranks in the top 10 in both forced missed tackles and broken tackles, according to the33rdteam. Etienne will see work through the air, but he does not fall close to the elite pass catchers. For Etienne to reach his potential, the Jaguars must remain close enough to mix in rushing plays.
The Jaguars’ pass game has focused on two players for most of the year, Zay Jones and Christian Kirk. Marvin Jones Jr. and Evan Engram function as tertiary and quaternary receivers, but the passing game flows through Zay Jones and Kirk. Both Zay and Kirk command over 22% targets per route run. While Zay has had impressive game totals sporadically, Kirk has bested Zay in terms of efficiency. Kirk has gotten 2.08 yards per route run and Zay has gotten 1.57 yards per route run, a considerable difference. Trevor Lawrence is listed as questionable for this matchup but looks likely to suit up against the Titans this week.
The Titans are a prototypical run funnel. They rate as the best team against rushing plays but cannot contain the pass. The Titans have surrendered the most fantasy points to wide receivers this season. No matter the game script, the Jaguars should look to pass first. Backing Zay Jones and Christian Kirk should pay off this week. The Jaguars look somewhat similar to the Titans on the defensive side of the ball. They have performed well against the run but are abysmal against the pass. The near 48% success rate surrendered through the air rates as bottom-10 in the NFL. Taking advantage of this inadequacy could prove difficult for the depleted receiving corps of the Titans. This matchup sets up well for the Jaguars to succeed and causes concern for the Titans, in my opinion.
Look for Trevor Lawrence to top Daniel Jones (+0.5) and Christian Kirk to topple Jerry Jeudy (+1.5).
Two weeks ago, the outcome left more to be desired as Mark Andrews dropped a touchdown that should have secured an easy victory. Alongside that unfortunate event, Travis Etienne got injured early in the game, so he never stood a chance against Kenneth Walker. Andrews's usage, production and opportunity made him look more likely than not to cover, but the touchdown variance worked for Kelce.
Likewise, the other matchups I highlighted disappointed my hopes. Chase did not play, so I pivoted to Higgins, who would have covered, but Higgins was not included in the article. Despite Higgins erupting, Burrow only performed adequately and could not keep pace with Lamar. These games combined for the worst outcome of Mark Andrews not doing enough to succeed but Lamar getting there on the ground and beating our pick. It was an unfortunate series of events, but I believe the process behind the picks to be sound. When taking chances on even relatively decent edges in football, variance plays a considerable role.
As we come back from a one-week hiatus, we’re looking to come out on the right side of variance this week. Coming back to the TopProp fight, I’m feeling reinvigorated and ready to take down a few more matchups. Agree or disagree with my picks, join me in the TopProp streets this week, where you can put your money where your mouth is.
Looking for more fantasy football content or discourse, follow me on Twitter @FeilNarley.
TPRR is courtesy of the 33rd Team and Sports Info Solutions and success rate data is from rbsdm.com.