Divisional Walkthrough: The Big Dog is Back

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Welcome to the Friday Walkthrough. Every week I'll be outlining critical fantasy football context for the upcoming slate of games.

At the end of the article, I've included an extensive list of the stats used as well as what they are, why they're useful, and where they came from.

Bengals at Titans, 4:30 PM Eastern, Saturday

Bengals Implied Team Total (from PointsBet): 22
Entering the postseason, the Bengals posed a major question: did they plan to embrace the pass like they did to close the regular season, or were they planning to return to their mid-season run-heavy form? With one playoff game in the books, we have some encouraging signs.

The Bengals finished the regular season (not counting a Brandon Allen-led Week 18) with a 15% pass rate over expected against the Ravens and a 14% pass rate over expected against the Chiefs. Accounting for game situation, the Bengals were wildly pass-heavy in both outings. These games were a significant break from what they showed in previous weeks.

The Bengals opened the season with a run-heavy approach over their first three games. They then pivoted to a pass-first approach that looked like it was ramping up to the pass-heavy game plans they deployed in 2020. But they then backed off and went run-first in every game from Weeks 9-15. So it required a small leap of faith to believe that they'd continue with a pass-first approach in the playoffs.

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Against the Raiders, The Bengals weren't nearly as pass-heavy as they were to close the regular season, but they were decidedly pass-first. And the story of the Bengals season makes sense if you consider that they have a poor offensive line and a quarterback in his first season back from an ACL tear. Pro Football Focus grades the Bengals offensive line as just 25th in pass blocking; there was some real sense in trying to limit Joe Burrow's dropbacks behind that line during the regular season, despite it being maddening for fantasy-minded analysts like myself. However, now that the Bengals are in the playoffs, they do seem aware the Burrow is their best path to a deep playoff run. The shift toward Burrow is even more apparent when looking at the Bengals' 1st-and-10 playcalling tendencies.

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Last week's 9% PROE on 1st-and-10 was the Bengals' highest rate of the season, outside of their two-week passing explosion against the Ravens and Chiefs. And keep in mind... the Raiders were a run funnel this season. Teams shifted 4% to the run against the Raiders, making the Bengals' clear shift the pass against them even more noteworthy.

The Bengals now get a Titans defense that has been a clear pass-funnel. Opponents are averaging a 3% pass rate over expected against the Titans and have shifted 4% to the pass. If the Bengals have genuinely pivoted to a pass-heavy approach, the Titans defense should help amplify that shift.

The Bengals have also played faster over their last three meaningful games. The Bengals rank 30th in situation-neutral seconds per play this season; only the Packers and Colts have been slower. And from Weeks 1-15, the Bengals ranked 24th in seconds remaining on the play clock when tied and 27th overall. But in Burrow's last three games, the Bengals are up to 13th in play clock remaining when tied, and 20th overall. They're still not a fast team, but they have allowed Burrow to run a much more aggressive passing offense over their last three games.

It's easy to understand why the Bengals would choose to lean on Burrow in must-win situations. He's played incredible football this season. Excluding garbage time, Burrow ranks fifth in EPA* per play (which measures efficiency) and first in completion percentage over expected (which measures accuracy). It's impressive enough that Burrow has been the most accurate quarterback in football through 19 weeks—but he's also he's been exceptional under pressure—which is essential given the state of the Bengals' pass protection.

Burrow ranks first in completion percentage, yards per attempt, and passer rating while under pressure. It's not hyperbole to say that he's been a superstar this season. With increased volume on tap against the Titans, the Bengals passing game has a high ceiling.

However, despite being a pass-funnel, the Titans present a difficult matchup for Burrow. The Titans rank ninth in EPA allowed per dropback and sixth in coverage grade. Although, they don't generate much pressure, ranking 27th in pass-rush grade and 20th in pressure rate. But given Burrow's ability to elude pressure, he might prefer to play against a stronger pass rush... if it was accompanied by weaker coverage. Then again, Burrow lit up the Chiefs, who rank 8th in coverage grade and 20th in pass-rush grade. Moreover, the Titans' weak pass rush should give the Bengals' coaches the confidence to call a pass-heavy game. The Titans are competent, but they'll have to be playing at the very top of their game to limit Burrow.

Of course, Burrow isn't the only reason why the Bengals are so deadly through the air... as the Bengals themselves will tell you.

Ja'Marr Chase has 2.55 yards per route run and is already a superstar. In the divisional round, only Cooper Kupp, Deebo Samuel, and Davante Adams rank higher in YPRR. Chase has a 24% target share and an elite 39% air yard share. As measured by weighted opportunity rating (WOPR), only Adams, Kupp, and A.J. Brown have accounted for a bigger share of their passing offense among divisional round receivers.

And Chase isn't the only star receiver on the Bengals. Tee Higgins has an elite 2.14 YPRR, which ranks above divisional round stars like Tyreek Hill, Rob Gronkowski, Stefon Diggs, Travis Kelce, and Mike Evans. Higgins has the same 22% target rate as Chase, but he has a slightly shallower target depth, with a 12.3 average depth of target (aDOT) to Chase's 13.5. Chase's mix of deep targets, along with shallow targets and rushing work, make him a better bet than Higgins each week. Chase also runs more routes than Higgins. He's averaged a 92% route rate this season, to Higgins' 88%, and ran a route on 100% of dropbacks against the Raiders, with Higgins at 89%. So Chase is the better play. But... Higgins is a full-time, hyper-efficient receiver who sees deep targets in a potent passing offense. He's a high-ceiling play, even if he doesn't have quite as much fantasy appeal as Chase.

Tyler Boyd has 1.54 YPRR, which is a respectable showing for a No. 3 option. His 8.0 aDOT gives him a significantly lower weekly ceiling than Chase and Higgins, but he can still find spike weeks when the Bengals get going.

Despite C.J. Uzomah's strong week against the Raiders, he has just 1.13 YPRR this season and remains a weak bet this week.

Joe Mixon handled 77% of snaps against the Raiders and will be just fine if the Bengals go pass-heavy this week. He's had a 60%+ route rate in all three games of the Bengals' recent pass-heavy stretch, seeing a total of 19 targets. In fact, Mixon arguably has more upside in a pass-focused attack. At the very least, he can deliver a big day in any game script.

*(Expected Points Added, EPA, is an efficiency metric that calculates the expected points of a game situation compared to the previous play. This measures how much each play added or subtracted from a team's point expectation. I exclude garbage time for all EPA data in this article and used adjusted EPA per play, which caps the penalty for negative plays. Data courtesy of rbsdm.com)

Titans Implied Team Total (from PointsBet): 25.5
This year's divisional round provides us with an interesting mix of teams. On the one hand, we have the Chiefs, Buccaneers, Bills, and Packers, who rank 1-4 in pass rate over expected. But we also have the 49ers, who rank 31st, and the Titans, who rank dead last with a -8% PROE. The Titans also rank dead last in situation-neutral pass rate.

The Titans face a Bengals defense that has operated as a pass-funnel this season, with opponents shifting 3% to the pass against them. However, it seems hard to believe that the Titans will shift meaningfully to the pass this week in Derrick Henry's first game back from injury.

Even if Henry is playing at less than 100%, the Titans are likely to prefer a run-first attack. They went pass-first in just two games all season and wrapped up their season with a -12% PROE over their final four games.

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Teams have tended to go pass-first against the Bengals, but they don't have a particularly formidable run defense. The Bengals rank 23rd in EPA allowed per rush and 22nd in run defense grade. They won't deter the Titans from designing their game plan our their returning star.

Derrick Henry played only eight games in a 17 game regular season... and still finished 10th in rushing attempts. His 21.0 expected points per game were the largest workload of any running back this season. It's unlikely that he sees that kind of usage in his first game back from foot surgery. But the Titans have also built their identity around a downhill rushing attack. So for as long as the Titans are in position to run heavily, Henry will get as much work as he can handle.

The Bengals can also be thrown on, ranking 17th in EPA allowed per dropback, 25th in pass-rush grade, and 10th in coverage grade. And with the Titans likely rushing fairly efficiently, the Bengals should be prepared for a heavy dose of play-action passes.

Ryan Tannehill has 6.4 YPA on non-play action passes; he jumps to 8.6 YPA on play action. His passer rating also jumps from 86.5 to 97.0 on play action. Tannehill hasn't been as good this season as in years past, but he's still having a solid season, ranking ninth in EPA per play and fifth in CPOE. An increase in play-action rate should help him have a strong game.

Tannehill will also benefit from having A.J. Brown and Julio Jones healthy after each missed a significant stretch of the season. A.J. Brown's excellence hasn't been on display as often as we hoped this year, but he's still played at an incredibly high level when on the field. Brown has 2.50 YPRR, and that elite mark actually understates his target opportunity. Brown has a 29% target rate, which is massive for his 12.4 aDOT. Noted target hog Diontae Johnson has a target rate of just 27%, with an aDOT of 9.0. So Brown is more target dominant than one of the most target dominant receivers in football... and his average target comes with significantly more upside. That's an exciting target profile.

In addition, Brown's 8.6 yards per target is actually lower than expected for his target depth—meaning his production to this point understates the value of his opportunity. Brown could disappoint with limited target volume if the Titans can pull off the script that the 49ers just hit the Cowboys with. But if the Bengals dictate a pass-heavy environment, Brown's routes could spike. Given that he's underperforming with an elite 2.50 YPRR, he has one of the highest ceilings of the week.

Julio Jones has had an extremely disappointing season, given his inability to stay on the field. And even when Jones has played, he's averaged just a 70% route rate through a combination of in-game injuries and managed snaps. But Jones has played well when actually running routes. He has 1.76 YPRR and has operated as a deep threat with a 12.6 aDOT. Jones' injury issues appear to have become more of a problem with age, but his skill set doesn't seem to have completely fallen off. He's a no-fun but completely viable DFS play.

49ers at Packers, 8:15 PM Eastern, Saturday

49ers Implied Team Total (from PointsBet): 20.75
Jimmy Garoppolo is dealing with a shoulder sprain, but it sounds like he'll be a full go on Saturday. Garoppolo ranks sixth in EPA per play and 12th in CPOE this season. Despite that, the 49ers are highly uninterested in building their offense around him. Perhaps they were as unsurprised as the rest of us when Garoppolo made a bad overthrow for an interception while up 23-10 against the Cowboys.

The 49ers rank 31st with a -7% pass rate over expected and rank 31st in situation-neutral pass rate. Garoppolo usually efficiently executes what he's asked to do... with notable lapses. But he's not asked to do that much.

In Garoppolo's defense, he does have some real strengths as a quarterback. For one, he's excellent against pressure.

Garoppolo ranks fourth in YPA and sixth in passer rating under pressure. Garoppolo is also excellent against the blitz, ranking second in YPA and fifth in passer rating against it. These abilities helped him survive against the Cowboys, who pressured him on 42% of his dropbacks and blitzed at a 50% rate.

Garoppolo now faces a Packers defense that ranks second in pass-rush grade and third in pressure rate. But unlike the Cowboys, they don't blitz heavily. The Packers have blitzed at a 22% rate, which ranks 24th. Impressively, the Packers are generating pressure at a higher rate than the Cowboys, and they don't have to bring extra defenders to get to the quarterback.

The Packers also rank 14th in EPA allowed per dropback and seventh in coverage grade. They aren't as good as the Cowboys' defense overall, but they may be a more difficult matchup for the 49ers' offense. If so, the 49ers could struggle to deliver their usual elite efficiency. That could be a problem in what is likely to be a slow-paced, low-volume game.

George Kittle went just 1-for-18 on two targets against the Cowboys, but he led the 49ers with an 88% route rate. Kittle has an elite 2.27 YPRR and a 23% target rate, both of which are elite for a tight end. Kittle is running a bit hot with a 9.8 YPT on his 8.2 aDOT, but the more significant concern is that he isn't consistently involved when the 49ers can deploy a run-heavy game plan. Kittle has elite upside every time he suits up, but this game environment isn't ideal.

Brandon Aiyuk finished second in route rate against the Cowboys and was technically the 49ers' No. 1 wide receiver in the wild card round. He's slowly recovered from his lifeless start to the season and is up to 1.74 YPRR. He's nowhere near the elite efficiency of his teammates, but his 10.3 aDOT is the deepest of the primary weapons, which provides him with a path to upside even on limited volume.

Deebo Samuel has dabbled with a hybrid role over the season, but he was arguably a true running back against Dallas. Samuel ran a route on just 62% of dropbacks, his lowest rate of the season. Samuel was still targeted fairly heavily, with a 19% target rate, but his 2.0 aDOT was his lowest of the season and genuinely running back worthy. Samuel also saw 10 carries, his highest total of the season. And Samuel's 13 backfield snaps were his second-highest of the season.

Samuel's pure upside in a perfect game environment is probably a bit higher in a true wide receiver role. But the way this game is likely to go makes his hybrid usage an asset. Moreover, Samuel's hybrid role means we don't even have to predict the game script. Regardless of how this game plays out, it's a virtual certainty that Samuel will be heavily involved. If I had to bet, I'd put my money on another backfield-focused performance from the hybrid star.

The Packers are more vulnerable against the run than the pass, ranking 28th in EPA allowed per rush and 15th in run defense grade. As a result, the 49ers are very likely to deploy a similarly run-heavy, ball-control game plan to the one they rolled out against Dallas.

Samuel's backfield usage would be a devastating blow to the starting running back's fantasy value in a normal offense. But in a game where Samuel rushed 10 times for 72 yards and a TD, Elijah Mitchell had 27 carries for 96 yards and a TD. Mitchell also had a healthy 16.7 expected points. The bigger issue is that Mitchell isn't involved in all facets of the offense. Mitchell has just three games with 3+ targets all season and has seen zero targets in five different games. It's fair to call him game script-dependent. But unless the 49ers get down early, Mitchell should have a sizable workload, regardless of Samuel's involvement.

Packers Implied Team Total (from PointsBet): 26.25
Aaron Rodgers is having an incredible season, but the Packers aren't pushing their edge at quarterback as much as you'd typically expect. Rodgers ranks first in EPA per play and second in CPOE. He's playing unquestionably elite football.

And the Packers rank fourth with a 4% pass rate over expected, so they're definitely built around the passing game. However, the Packers rank just 11th in situation-neutral pass rate and have just a 1% PROE on 1st-and-10. So in neutral situations, they're a balanced team.

Green Bay (as Walkthrough readers know by now) plays incredibly slowly. The Packers rank 31st in situation-neutral pace; only the Colts were slower. They also rank 32nd in seconds remaining on the play clock. And whether leading, trailing, or tied, the Packers maintain their 32nd ranking in play clock remaining. They have a significantly more efficient quarterback than the 49ers do, but the Packers play in a way that creates a small sample of plays in each game. And weird stuff can happen in a small sample of football plays.

Weird stuff can also happen when a defense gets pressure on the quarterback, and the 49ers excel in that regard. They rank fourth in pass-rush grade and 6th in pressure rate. They can also generate pressure with only four defenders, ranking just 25th in blitz rate. When pressured, Rodgers is actually quite mortal, ranking just 31st in YPA and 21st in passer rating. With the 49ers likely slowing this game down on the other side with a deliberate rushing attack, the Packers would do well to pick up the pace here because they may struggle to deliver their typical efficiency.

Although, it's always dangerous to doubt Davante Adams' efficiency. In 16 games this season, Adams has never posted a YPRR below 1.0 and has hit 2+ YPRR in 13 of 16 games. Assuming you don't stare at YPRR tables as much as I do... you may not be aware of just how uncommon this is. For example, Deebo Samuel has been below 1.0 in three games and only hit 2+ in 11 of 16 games. And Tyreek Hill has been below 1.0 in four games and hit 2+ in just seven of 18 games. Outside of Cooper Kupp and Adams, you don't really see this type of consistency, even among top-tier wide receivers. Adams' efficiency is driven by an ultra-elite 30% target rate. Even if Rodgers isn't at the top of his game, Adams should remain heavily involved.

Rodgers will likely be without his usual secondary weapon, Marquez Valdes-Scantling, forcing Allen Lazard into a deep threat role. Lazard has an 11.3 aDOT to Valdes-Scantling's 18.4, and despite being targeted more shallowly, Lazard has a 14% target rate to MVS' 16%; Lazard is not the same caliber of deep threat.

Rodgers should have Randall Cobb back, at least. Cobb plays a very different role in the offense than Valdes-Scantling but has been efficient this season. His 1.49 YPRR is second among receivers, and his 10.5 aDOT gives him a little more downfield involvement than you might assume.

Aaron Jones hasn't had a route rate above 50% since Week 10. Before that, he had seven weeks from Weeks 2-8 with a 59%+ route rate in every game. His reduced routes coincide with an increased receiving role for A.J. Dillon. Dillon maxed out at a 31% route rate through Week 10. He hit a season-high 49% in Week 11; he hasn't fallen below 31% in any game since hitting 40%+ in each of his last two games. All of this isn't ideal for Jones, who is generally thought of as the Packers' pass-catching running back.

Jones' 1.24 YPRR actually trails Dillon's 1.57, so Dillon's increased routes aren't coming out of nowhere. Certainly, Jones offers some downfield pass-catching ability that Dillon does not. And if Cobb is limited in this game, Jones has potential to operate as a hybrid receiver/back in a way that would be inconceivable for Dillon. But as far as typical backfield targets go, Dillon is quite capable in a Jonathan Taylor, get the big guy going in space sort of way. The biggest thing that Jones has going for him is that he has elite target rates of 35% and 29% over his last two games, with target shares of 18% and 15%. So while Jones will probably only have a small lead in routes over Dillon, if one of them is force-fed targets, it will be Jones.

Jones' 14.9 expected points per game set him up as a high-end RB2 type play. If he sees another target rate spike, he could deliver a vintage Aaron Jones ceiling week.

Rams at Buccaneers, 3:00 PM Eastern, Sunday

Rams Implied Team Total (from PointsBet): 22.75
Matthew Stafford has had an impressive season. That is undeniable. He ranks third in EPA per play and was the most efficient quarterback in the wild card round, excluding garbage time.

But the Rams are not behaving as if their quarterback is their best path to victory. They signaled a major shift to the run to close the regular season, forgoing opportunities to pass heavily on the Ravens and then going run-heavy against the 49ers. They then hammered home their new run-first approach, with a truly run-heavy performance against the Cardinals. They are now coming off their two most run-heavy weeks of the season.

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The Rams are a lock to move at least slightly back to the pass this week. The Buccaneers aren't just a pass funnel. They are the pass funnel. Teams are shifting 9% to the pass against them. Even the Eagles, who had a -11% pass rate over expected from Weeks 7-17, delivered a 3% PROE against the Buccaneers in the wild card round. The Buccaneers have a game plan altering defense.

Still, given their recent performances, I don't expect the Rams to be anywhere near the 11% PROE they opened the season with against the Bears or their season-high 13% PROE against the Lions. Instead, we'll likely see the Rams playing balanced or slightly tilted to the run.

Cam Akers' shocking return has aided the Rams' shift to the ground game. Akers played a minimal role to close the season but was up to a 53% snap share against the Cardinals. This isn't the Rams letting Akers get his feet under him to prep for next season. They appear to be installing him as their lead running back for these playoffs.

But Akers is in a tough spot this week. The Buccaneers rank third in EPA allowed per rush and 12th in run defense grade, and the Rams offense is likely to be less run-focused than they were against the Cardinals. Akers handled 17 rushing attempts but ceded 13 carries to Sony Michel and handled 53% of the backfield attempts. So if overall backfield carries are down, Akers could have a small rushing workload.

But... Akers could actually be better off in a pass-heavy environment. Akers had a 22% route rate back in his first game, but he jumped to a 45% route rate against the Cardinals. Meanwhile, Sony Michel saw his route rate decline from 73% to 36%. Akers has a 28% target rate, so the Rams are making a concerted effort to get him involved in a big way in the passing game. If his routes jump again here, he could be operating in a D'Andre Swift role on a much better offense. Then again, Akers will be in his third game back since tearing his Achilles. He may maintain a 1A role rather than further consolidating the backfield. Akers profiles a boom/bust RB2 type play.

The running game ascendent in Los Angeles, but this is still Cooper Kupp's offense. Kupp has a 32% target share and a 33% air yard share. Even if the Rams passing offense doesn't have its best day... Kupp still represents a third of it. And Kupp has been highly efficient when targeted, posting a 3.11 YPRR that I would call unsustainably good if he hadn't been consistently at this level throughout his 18 game season. Kupp, obviously, remains an ultra-elite play.

Odell Beckham had a strong game against the Cardinals, with four receptions for 54 yards and a TD. Beckham trailed Van Jefferson in route rate, 86% to 77%, but Beckham had a 24% target rate to Jefferson's 5%. Jefferson was in his usual deep threat role, but Beckham had a 9.5 aDOT, and Beckham's role may be shifting after struggling to deliver as a deep threat since joining the Rams. With a 19% target rate as a Ram to Jefferson's 15%, he remains the most interesting non-Kupp receiver.

Tyler Higbee's 16% target rate and 5.8 aDOT put him firmly in TD-or-bust territory. But Higbee has a 19% target rate or better in four straight games, so his odds of delivering a usable PPR game without a TD are better than they used to be.

Buccaneers Implied Team Total (from PointsBet): 25.25
Tom Brady has had an incredible season, ranking seventh in EPA per play and eighth in CPOE. And despite being without Chris Godwin, Antonio Brown, and Leonard Fournette in the wild card round, he played very well, ranking third in EPA per play and fourth in CPOE.

Unlike the Rams, the Buccaneers have shown no indications of moving away from a pass-focused offense. They closed the season with a 15% pass rate over expected against a run-funnel Panthers squad and delivered a 9% PROE against the Eagles. Overall they have a 9% PROE for the season, which trails only the Chiefs. They also rank third in situation-neutral pass rate.

The Buccaneers now get a Rams team that opponents have been balanced against. But when the Buccaneers played the Rams in Week 3, they were far from balanced with a 13% pass rate over expected. Brady dropped back 60 times and attempted 55 passes, while Buccaneers running backs combined for just nine rushing attempts. Given that they lost that game 34-24, it's likely that the Buccaneers are at least a bit closer to balanced this week.

Of course, the Buccaneers' willingness to run the ball will be related to the health of Leonard Fournette's hamstring. The Rams rank 10th in EPA allowed per rush and first in run defense grade, so if Fournette isn't 100%, they could struggle to get things going on the ground. Fournette's hamstring also creates uncertainty around his workload. Fournette hasn't been outstanding as a rusher or receiver this season; he's been an RB1 down the stretch because he dominates high-value touches in a backfield that produces a lot of them.

Fournette ranks just 36th in breakaway percentage, 31st in elusive rating, and 20th in YPRR. But none of that will matter if he dominates snaps this week.

Ke'Shawn Vaughn and Giovani Bernard combined for 38.5 expected points against the Eagles. Consider that for a second... in one game... the Buccaneers backfield had a nearly 40 point fantasy workload. As I mentioned last week, from Weeks 10-14, Fournette had 23.2 expected points per game with the Buccaneers backfield to himself. If the Buccaneers play like last week again and give him a full snap share, he could take that to another level.

Even if Fournette doesn't have his usual workload, however, he's still an RB2 type play because of his involvement in the passing game. Fournette's lowest target share since Week 8 is 13%, and he has twice topped 20%.

Even if the Buccaneers are closer to balanced this week than they were in their first meeting with the Rams, they're still likely to be pass-heavy. That exposes Brady to a Rams defense that ranks first in pash rush grade and eighth in pressure rate. But it also allows him to attack a secondary that ranks 12th in coverage grade and allows 1st down passes as the 18th highest rate. The Rams are a very good pass defense; they rank fifth in EPA allowed per dropback. But if Brady can survive their pass rush, he has a good chance of moving the ball efficiently through the air.

To that point, tackle Tristan Wirfs is a game-time decision. Brady has not been good under pressure this season, ranking 20th in passer rating and 24th in YPA under pressure. Wirfs is PFF's 13th overall offensive lineman in pass block grade, so if he's out or severely limited, it will have a meaningful impact. The Buccaneers still have a very good offensive line beyond Wirfs, ranking third in team pass blocking grade. But protecting Brady will be a key to sustaining passing output and offensive output in general.

One thing the Buccaneers have going for them is adaptability. I was skeptical that Mike Evans would operate a possession receiver with Godwin and Brown out, but that's exactly how he was used against the Eagles. Through Week 17, Evans had a 14.0 aDOT, operating as a true deep threat. He dropped to a 10.3 aDOT against the Panthers in Week 18. Against the Eagles, he was all the way down to 8.0. Evans has seen 18 targets over the last two weeks, and his new usage is far better suited to help Brady manage the Rams' pass rush. Evans' role gives him less upside on a per-play basis, but he can easily rack up volume, and with 2.82 YPRR over the last two weeks, he's thriving in a more target dominant role.

One issue with Evans seeing shorter targets is that it leaves the offense without a genuine deep threat. Rob Gronkowski's 9.7 aDOT is actually the deepest on the team over the last two weeks, but Gronkowski isn't a true field stretcher. The tight end is coming off a poor 5.2 YPT performance, but he has 1.99 YPRR this season. Like Evans, he has upside to dominate short-intermediate targets.

The Buccaneers' lack of a deep threat creates some downside risk for the offense as a whole. Breshad Perriman was expected to help out in that regard but has been ruled out for the game. Scotty Miller will likely rotate in but has just has a 9% target rate this season—which likely means he's struggling to get open deep. He has a 0.42 YPRR this season and somehow looks like an even thinner bet than Tyler Johnson and his 0.91 YPRR. Miller would still be my preferred dart throw as a bet they use his speed on a designed underneath route or two.

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Bills at Chiefs, 6:30 PM Eastern, Sunday

Bills Implied Team Total (from PointsBet): 26.25
Josh Allen ranks 14th in EPA per play and 17th in CPOE, excluding garbage time. And he was second in EPA per play and fifth in CPOE in the competitive portion of the wild card round. But Allen is one of the more penalized quarterbacks when filtering out garbage time from the EPA and CPOE data. Allen ranks ninth in EPA per play and ninth in CPOE this season when garbage time is included. And he easily ranked first in both EPA per play and CPOE in the wild card round with garbage time included.

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In some ways, I exclude garbage time precisely because of quarterbacks like Allen. The Bills have had a wildly easy schedule and have beaten up on teams when ahead. All but one of their wins this season was by 14+ points. At the same time, all fantasy points count the same for Allen and his receivers. If the Bills manage to get a comfortable lead on the Chiefs, Allen is likely to run up the score. This is exactly what happened when the Bills beat the Chiefs 38-20 in Week 5; Allen turned in his most efficient week of the season and threw for the final TD of the game.

On the other hand, the Bills have also lost six games this season to the Steelers, Titans, Jaguars, Colts, Patriots, and Buccaneers. When not front-running, Allen hasn't been quite as impressive. This dynamic creates a bit of volatility for Allen's efficiency in this matchup.

The Chiefs are also a competent defense that ranks eighth in coverage grade. However, the Chiefs stopped short of becoming the high-end defense it looked like they were trending towards in the season's third quarter. They rank 20th in pass-rush grade and 25th in EPA allowed per dropback. They're not as exploitable as they were early in the season, but their defense is holding them back from being a truly elite team in EPA per play.

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(check out Ben Baldwin's rbsdm.com... it's an incredible site).

Allen has shown downside for disappointing efficiency, but he's also shown upside for huge weeks, and the Chiefs defense isn't likely to get in his way if he's playing at the top of his game.

While Allen's efficiency is a bit of an unknown, we can count on passing volume. The Bills rank third with a 5% pass rate over expected. But they've really pushed the passing game in neutral situations. They rank first with a 15% PROE on 1st-and-10 and rank first in situation-neutral pass rate. If the Chiefs are more competitive in the rematch, we could see passing volume balloon here in a major way.

Dawson Knox led the Bills with a 93% route rate against the Patriots. He's obviously not going to score two TDs every week, but his route opportunity is elite for a tight end. His role also looks more locked-in than any of the Bills' non-Diggs wide receivers.

Diggs played just 62% of snaps against the Patriots and ran a route on just 79% of dropbacks. But Bills superfan Mike Leone braved the spreadsheet-less cold to see this game live, and he has no concerns about Diggs' role in a game where routes were skewed by the frigid blowout. Diggs' wild card usage looks like a non-issue.

Diggs is also struggling with a poor 7.9 YPT, but that also looks like something we want to ignore. Diggs has a very strong 24% target rate for his 11.9 aODT. If he can flash the connection he had with Allen for all of last season, he has an elite ceiling.

Gabriel Davis ran ahead of Emmanuel Sanders against the Patriots, which was an excellent sign for the Bills' collective eyesight. Davis only ran a route on 62% of dropbacks, with Sanders a 55%. But like Diggs, Davis' role was skewed by the blowout. Davis will likely be a full-time player this week, but that's not guaranteed.

Isaiah McKenzie is in a similar spot. McKenzie was clearly the lead slot receiver with a 41% route rate to Cole Beasley's 28%. Again, credit to the Bills for playing the better receiver on more snaps. And I would assume that McKenzie will have a bigger lead in routes this week, given that he looked electric against the Patriots and has produced whenever given the opportunity. But if things go wrong for the new starting receivers, Davis' 14.5 aDOT gives him a much better chance of producing on limited volume than McKenzie's 6.6 aDOT.

The Chiefs are a bit stronger against the run than the pass, ranking 14th in EPA allowed per rush and 21st in run defense grade. But that's not likely to help them a ton in this matchup. And it probably won't even hurt Devin Singletary, who is a bet on a consolidated workload and TD equity. We'll be just fine if the Chiefs ding his yards per carry a bit.

Singletary handled 86% of snaps against the Patriots in a game where Josh Allen only played 95% of snaps. His grip on the backfield remains as tight as ever.

Chiefs Implied Team Total (from PointsBet): 28.25
It feels like all we talked about this season was Patrick Mahomes and why he wasn't playing great... yet Mahomes is currently fourth in EPA per play and ninth in CPOE. Only Burrow, Rodgers, Tannehill, and Brady have been more accurate among surviving playoff quarterbacks. And only Rodgers and Stafford have been more efficient this season.

The Chiefs never lost faith in their superstar quarterback. They rank first with a 10% pass rate over expected this season, second with an 8% PROE on 1st-and-10, and second in situation-neutral pass rate.

The Bills are technically a run-funnel, but non-Patriots opponents have only shifted 1% to the run against them, and the Bills demolished the Patriots the last two times they played. In their first matchup, the Chiefs had a 12% pass rate over expected against the Bills and have gone run-first just once all season, in an easy win over the Steelers in Week 16. They're likely to play to their strengths here.

Even with the Chiefs passing frequently, there is some concern for the passing game in this matchup. The Bills rank first in EPA per play, and while their defensive strength is overstated by their easy schedule, they have a very solid pass defense. The Bills rank 10th in pass-rush grade, first in pressure rate, and second in quick pressure rate (2.5 seconds or less). They will be getting after Mahomes.

The Bills are also very strong in the secondary. They rank third in coverage grade; they also allow first down passes at the lowest rate in the league, and 15+ yard passes at the lowest rate in the league. The Bills have gotten to beat up on bad teams... but this is still a difficult matchup for Mahomes.

Tyreek Hill is the Chiefs' quickest path to making this matchup look irrelevant. Hill has been dealing with a heel injury, but he ran just one less route than Travis Kelce against the Steelers. With another week to recover, Hill could return to vintage form here. Hill has 2.09 YPRR this season, which would be excellent for almost every receiver in the league. For Hill, it's a disappointing result. His YPRR isn't just disappointing compared to previous seasons... it's disappointing because he's significantly underperforming his target volume. Hill has a 26% target rate with a 10.9 aDOT. That target profile set him up for a scorching fantasy season, but he didn't get there. If this game lives up to its back and forth potential, Hill could remind us what elite speed can do when paired with massive target volume.

Travis Kelce has the opposite setup as Hill. He has 1.90 YPRR, which is already disappointing... and he's overperforming his target profile. Kelce has a 21% target rate and a 7.5 aDOT. He's a high volume underneath option, which continues to be a bummer after Kelce's long stretch of dominance. Still, a high volume underneath option in a shootout actually sounds pretty appealing, particularly in tight end premium contests.

The third receiving option against the Steelers was, shockingly, Jerrick McKinnon. McKinnon ran a route on 74% of dropbacks, which tied with Tyreek Hill (due to the blowout script). McKinnon's level of receiving usage was eye-opening. Darrel Williams hit a 73% route rate in Week 17 but was at 41% in Week 18 and has been at 60%+ just twice all season. Williams was active against the Steelers, so McKinnon's usage is all the more impressive.

McKinnon played 78% of snaps and handled 76% of backfield attempts. So McKinnon genuinely took over the backfield. With Clyde Edwards-Helaire back this week, it would be surprising if McKinnon has the backfield to himself. Still, McKinnon has a surprising amount of upside. He and CEH are going up against a decent, but not dominant Bills run defense that ranks 12th in EPA allowed per rush and 11th in run defense grade. But the Chiefs are likely to build their game plan around the pass, and McKinnon was so heavily involved there that he's better off in those scripts than more run-heavy environments, where Edwards-Helaire could prevail.

Sources

To write this article, I relied on the following stats, metrics, and grades.

  • Implied Team Totals are calculated using the lines at PointsBet.

  • Expected Points Added per Play (EPA/Play).

    • Efficiency metric based on how much a play improved a team's likelihood of scoring.

  • I use this metric primarily for QB efficiency but also for defensive efficiency.

  • Data from Ben Baldwin's rbsdm.com

  • All EPA/play referenced in this article has garbage time filtered out.

    • I do this by setting win probability filter to between 10-90%.

  • Completion Percentage Over Expected

  • QB accuracy metric

  • Data from rbsdm.com

  • All CPOE referenced in this article has garbage time filtered out.

    • I do this by setting win probability filter to between 10-90%.

  • Pass Rate over Expected

  • Measures passing decisions against what would be expected given the game situation.

  • Situation Neutral Pass Rate

  • Measures pass rate on downs and in situations when a team truly has the choice to pass or run.

  • Situation Neutral Seconds per Play

    • Seconds between plays in neutral game script.

  • Faster play generally means more plays, which provides more opportunity for fantasy scoring.

  • Adjusted Line Yards

  • Run blocking stat that has been correlated with elite fantasy running back seasons.

  • Snaps and Snap Share

  • Probably the single most important stat for running back opportunity.

      • Teams check in and out of runs with only one back on the field. Being on the field is critical.

    • Data from Pro Football Focus, AddMoreFunds and RotoViz

  • Target Share and Air Yard share

  • The combination of these is called WOPR. Created by Josh Hermsmeyer, this metric scales from 0-1.

    • Data from Pro Football Focus and RotoViz

  • Routes run per dropback

  • Snap share for receivers... since I'm not concerned with who is playing run-blocking snaps.

    • Data from Pro Football Focus

  • Yards Per Route Run

    • A YPRR of 1.8+ is good and anything 2+ is very good.

    • This metric is particularly useful for young wide receivers whose role could grow as a result of strong play.

    • It can also help identify truly elite wide receivers.

  • It filters out in-game injuries and blowouts much better than target share does.

    • Data from PFF

  • Target per Route Run

    • TPRR and Yards per Target combine to make up YPRR.

  • TPRR is especially useful for tight ends.

      • Some offenses and quarterbacks prioritize throwing to the tight end much more than others.

    • Some tight ends are far better at getting open than others.

    • TPRR is much more stable than YPT, so in small samples especially, I'd rather know who is drawing targets than what happened afterward.

  • Expected Fantasy Points.

  • Both RotoViz and PFF have similar Expected Points metrics that adjust opportunity based on the context of each play.

    • I am referencing PFF's metric unless otherwise stated.

  • A number of other PFF stats including Time to Throw, Play Action Rate, Pressure Rate, Screen Passes and Defensive Grades.