Philadelphia @ Dallas
A few weeks ago, this game appeared ripe with implications. Two teams pitted against each other for the number one seed in the NFC and the division title. Additionally, Jalen Hurts was fighting for a potential MVP award. This came crashing down when the Jaguars mounted an impressive comeback, and Jalen Hurts sustained an injury. Suddenly, the far-reaching impacts of this game dissipated. Nonetheless, this game could be an off-broadway preview of a potential NFC championship game. How do the teams match up against one another, and can the Eagles continue their one-loss campaign?
The run game has mainly driven the Cowboys' offense. On the year, the Cowboys have a -6% pass rate over expected. This could be impacted by Dak Prescott’s absence early in the season, but it is not. Since returning in week 7, the Cowboys have the same -6% pass rate over expected. Dallas operates with a true two-man committee. Tony Pollard and Ezekiel Elliott have seen between 51-59% of snaps each of the last four weeks, with one exception. While Elliott comes with more pedigree and historical production, Pollard has performed better this season. Pollard ranks second in yards after contact per rush out of rushers with 200+ snaps. As a result, of that rushing success in conjunction with this receiving prowess, Pollard ranks seventh in fantasy points out of running backs.
Unlike the running game, there is a clear focal point for the Cowboys' passing game. CeeDee Lamb operates as the alpha in the offense commanding a 29.0% targets per route run rate. Behind Lamb, a trio of receiving options compete for the other looks, Dalton Schultz, Michael Gallup and Noah Brown. The Cowboys are now 4.5-point favorites, so targets will come at a premium. Especially given the negative pass rate over expected, the Cowboys’ passing game will likely once again take a back seat to the run game.
Despite having an incredibly athletic rushing quarterback, the Eagles favor the passing game in several circumstances. The Eagles only have a -1% pass rate over expected but pass over expected on first and ten, as well as other situations. The Eagles could buck their typical tendencies because they will operate with a new quarterback. Gardner Minshew looks to continue the Eagles’ success. The receiving options will surely help Minshew attempt this feat. Dallas Goedert, A.J. Brown and DeVonta Smith all rank within the top 30 of yards per route run. Brown should be the top option, as he has seen a target on 28.9% of his routes.
The Eagles have shown an ability to alter team style so they may strongly favor the rushing attack this week. Miles Sanders and the rushing game benefit from having an athletic quarterback and a capable offensive line. Sanders has gotten more yards before contact per carry than anyone with 300 or more snaps.
The blueprint to exploiting these defenses looks quite similar, run the ball. Each team remains fully capable of imposing its will on the ground. The Eagles' rush defense looks particularly abysmal. Jordan Davis has returned to their defense and plugged many previously exploitable holes. Regardless, the pass defense for the Eagles is so strong that attacking the trenches will likely prove more effective. Look for this game to have way more rushing than many would expect in a matchup of offensive powerhouses.
Go with the underdogs in this matchup, Gardner Minshew (+2) over Dak Prescott and A.J. Brown over CeeDee Lamb.
Buffalo @ Chicago
The Buffalo Bills enter this week as the current AFC top seed. If they win out, they clinch the number one seed and the bye entering the playoffs. The three-win Bears are not likely to prevent the Bills from reaching these heights. Sportsbooks have the Bears as eight-point underdogs at home this week. The Bills' current five-game winning streak only has one victory by more than a possession.
The Bears have emerged as an explosive offense over the last couple of months. Since week seven, the Bears have scored 33, 29, 32, 30, 24, 19 and 20 points in games where Justin Fields played. Fields has lifted this offense with ankle-breaking jukes and improvised plays. Having already rushed for 1000 yards, Fields has his eyes on the quarterback rushing record and will continue utilizing his legs to the fullest.
The Bears' backfield has been driven by David Montgomery recently, but the potential return of Khalil Herbert could shift the prevailing winds. Montgomery saw a similar number of carries before and after Herbert’s injury, but his usage through the air has seen an uptick. Montgomery riders will hope this usage continues.
This game is being played in Chicago, where it should feel like ~-10 degrees on Saturday. Along with the temperature, the strong projected wind should push teams toward the rushing game. Implementing effective rushing concepts and short passing will determine how potent each offense can be.
The Bills have derived much of their success from the passing game. They pass over expectations in every situation rbsdm.com showcases in their “pass over expected” tool. Even WR1 mainstay Stefon Diggs could be thrown by this wild weather. His 28.3% target share should secure him a much more meaningful floor than anyone else in this game. His average depth of target is 10.8 yards as he operates in both the downfield and quick passing game. His teammate, Gabe Davis, projects to have a more difficult time adjusting. Davis relies heavily on long balls. Davis has seen a 16.6% target share and has one of the highest ADOTs in the league at 15 yards. Even with Allen’s cannon of an arm throwing him the ball, trusting Gabe Davis looks dubious this weekend.
When the Bills reluctantly run the ball, Devin Singletary is the preferred ball carrier. Jame Cook has begun to eat more into his workload, but Singletary is yet to be out-snapped by Cook. Josh Allen will factor in significantly on the ground, as he can serve as a battering ram. Cook has been more explosive and efficient on his looks than Singletary. Cook has higher yards before contact per carry and yards after contact per carry. A flippening of running backs could be around the corner, but as others repeatedly wishcast that, continue to back Singletary as the lead back.
The Bills struggle to control the run when compared to the pass. Even if the Bears can take advantage of this, their defense is bottom of the barrel against passing and running plays. They rank last in expected points added surrendered per passing play and fifth to last in EPA surrendered per rushing play. The elements may limit the Bills' offense, but they will assuredly have their way with the Bears' defense.
Fade the weather and the passing attack in this game with David Montgomery over Gabe Davis (+1.5) and Patrick Mahomes over Josh Allen.
Last week got off to a precarious start once Jonathan Taylor got hurt and the Colts scored multiple DST touchdowns. Justin Jefferson proceeded to light up the Colts for one of the best receiving performances of the season and the biggest comeback in NFL history. While Kirk Cousins threw 54 times, Adam Thielen only saw four targets, but unluckily one was a touchdown. The game script was perfect for both Minnesota players, and an early injury meant we left this game 0-2.
Later in the day, we got back on track. The Dolphins again asserted themselves as an offense to be reckoned with in the NFL. The 29-point total was more than enough for Mostert, Hill and Tagovailoa to succeed. Deshaun Watson is a shell of his former self and an easy fade until further notice. Stefon Diggs was the hardest bullet to dodge here, but Dawson Knox’s performance meant fewer available yards and touchdowns for others. This 3-0 lead to a winning week and a good comeback after a dreadful start.
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TPRR is courtesy of the 33rd Team and Sports Info Solutions and success rate data is from rbsdm.com.