Welcome to the Week 13 edition of Snaps & Pace, where we examine trends in play volume and game pace. It is meant to be a 30,000-foot view of upcoming contests, with the goal of identifying which matchups will – and which will not – be played on fertile fantasy soil. For a primer on why this is important, click here.
The post-Thanksgiving slate is often overlooked, but with bye weeks expiring, we’re staring at a pretty full plate. The Cardinals are back in action, there’s a “Game of the Year” candidate, and Andy Dalton returns. Good times. So let’s fire up a leftover turkey and stuffing sandwich and dive right in.
UP IN PACE
Los Angeles Rams at Arizona Cardinals
Fresh off of a nationally televised drilling by the Lamar Jackson Express, the Rams should at least help drive an elevated game pace and score more than their 11.7-point average from the last month. Considering the Cardinals allow the fourth-most points on a per-snap basis, simply running more plays likely props up Los Angeles’ offense. Rams games average the third-most combined snaps (129.6 without overtime), and their offense operates at the fourth-quickest situation-neutral pace. Only the Cardinals have a higher no-huddle rate for the season, which probably won’t hurt the overall pace of their game in Arizona. If the offense doesn’t look alive here, coaching candidates might start inventing reasons to scrub Sean McVay off their resumes.
During the last month, Cardinals games rank seventh in combined plays (130) despite two of their last three matchups coming against the rabid 49ers – whose contests rank third lowest in total snaps. Arizona also scored 25 and 26 points, when all of San Francisco’s other opponents average 12.4 points per game. The Cardinals are increasingly reliant on Kyler Murray, with a 65% situation-neutral pass rate during the last month (fourth highest), versus a 58% rate through eight weeks (19th). More passing has helped quicken the league’s second-fastest situation-neutral snaps pace. Combined with Arizona’s pass-funnel defense, which features a league-worst coverage unit and the sixth-highest opponent pass rate while games are within one score (63%), it’s obvious why Cardinals games pack elevated play volume.
We will see more Todd Gurley after he had only nine Week 12 touches (six carries), in what should be a far more balanced Rams offense. Brandin Cooks and Robert Woods didn’t play their usual complement of snaps, but that likely had to do more with easing them back into the lineup and Los Angeles getting pulverized than Josh Reynolds permanently usurping playing time. Both starters are very much in play in Arizona, along with Cooper Kupp, and will be aided by extra snaps for the Rams. Gimpy Gerald Everett’s inconsistent usage renders him a shaky start despite game environment and a plus tight end matchup. If he sits, Tyler Higbee becomes moderately interesting. The Cardinals are in a great spot, but offer shaky fantasy options beyond their concentrated core of Kyler Murray, Christian Kirk, Larry Fitzgerald, and presumably Kenyan Drake. We don’t know Chase Edmonds’ exact role coming out of a bye, and we can’t trust David Johnson until we see a change in his usage. Barring further clarification that goes beyond a national reporter guessing at playing time, we know which Cardinals are safest to load up on for a potential shootout.
Tampa Bay Buccaneers at Jacksonville Jaguars
The Bucs are operating at a moderate pace during neutral situations for the full season, and their pass rate when games are within one score ranks only 18th highest. Yet nobody plays in games that average more combined snaps (134.3 without overtime). Only the Patriots run more plays per game, and during the last month, only New England is operating at a faster seconds-per-snap pace. Opponents throw on Tampa’s 12th-worst-graded coverage and 25th-graded pass rush at a league-high 65% rate during neutral situations, avoiding PFF’s sixth-highest-graded run defense. Lately the Bucs have also been elevating game pace through the air, throwing at a 64% situation-neutral clip over the last four weeks, versus 54% prior to that.
Will Tampa Bay’s renewed affinity for passing help them resist an increasingly enticing Jaguars run funnel that’s sucked opponents in at a 48% situation-neutral rate over the last month? Prior to that, however, Jacksonville was getting run on at the eighth-lowest clip (38%), and their sixth-worst-graded pass coverage is as shaky as the run defense, despite Derrick Henry’s annual late-season ethering. The Jags have also picked up the pace recently on a per-snap basis, ranking eighth quickest over the last four weeks. During that time their situation-neutral pass rate jumped from 55% (23rd highest) up to 68% (third highest). No doubt that’s influenced by game script (they’ve lost their last four) and Nick Foles’ reinsertion into the starting lineup, but whatever the reason, they are facing the perfect opponent with whom they can chuck it around and spike play volume.
Never a confident play, Ronald Jones does set up well if the Bucs decide to funnel their efforts on the ground. The matchup is accommodative and likely play volume mitigates Tampa’s frustrating backfield split. The decisions get easier from there, with Mike Evans and Chris Godwin idiot-proof plays, and everyone else an idiot test. Bruce Arians let O.J. Howard out of the doghouse on Sunday, but this slate has smarter ways to wind up feeling stupid. As for the Jaguars, Lenny Fournette is locked in by his elite usage and the matchup’s opportunity floor, despite Tampa’s stout run defense. All three of Foles’ top pass catchers, D.J. Chark, Chris Conley, and Dede Westbrook, are in excellent spots, made better by Jacksonville’s yawning void at tight end. Chark will be most popular, for good reason, but all are completely viable this week.
New York Jets at Cincinnati Bengals
This week’s beautifully ugly matchup features the resurgent Jets (surgent Jets?), who have taken care of business the last few weeks against three stooges with a combined -272 point differential. Now they’ll take on a Bengals team with a -135 differential, albeit with Andy Dalton mercifully reinserted into their offense. New York’s games have averaged the 12th-most combined points during the last month, which coincides not only with their softening schedule, but a long overdue commitment to elevating tempo. Only the Cardinals (26%) have gone no-huddle more than the Jets (24%) over the last four weeks, and to say the least, it has agreed with Broadway Sam Darnold – PFF’s third-best-graded passer since Week 9.
When Dalton was benched, the Bengals slowed down what was the league’s quickest seconds-per-snap pace. They currently sit fifth in situation-neutral pace. Cincinnati also went from passing at a 68% situation-neutral clip (second highest), to a 61% rate (14th). We can expect both the passing and pace to return with Dalton, especially because nobody runs on the Jets’ fourth-highest-graded run defense. Opponents have a 63% pass rate for the season (fifth highest), and it’s rocketed to a league-high 70% rate during the last four weeks. Both defenses deploy impotent pass rushes, and should have receivers running free all over the field. The sullied names of these franchises have contributed to a meager projected point total that doesn’t factor in likely game pace, and it should shave some DFS ownership.
We’re riding with Darnold and his moderately wide target tree. An extra helping of play volume keeps Jamison Crowder and the rejuvenated Robby Anderson in play, as well as red zone factor Ryan Griffin. Using Demaryius Thomas feels like reaching for a floor, but this is the week to do it. Workload worries won’t pop back up for Le’Veon Bell due to favorable volume and matchup. The Bengals present fewer viable options, with only Tyler Boyd and Auden Tate standing out among pass catchers. While Joe Mixon needs more passing game work to really pop against the Jets stingy run defense, there’s enough here to roll him out in a home game with quiet upside.
Slow Paced Slogs
San Francisco 49ers at Baltimore Ravens
Anyone who says they know for sure how well the 49ers defensive front will handle the ridiculous Ravens offense is lying. Many believe Baltimore will have the upper hand, and a 4.5-point line was immediately bet up to 6 with Monday night fresh in people’s minds. As long as the game remains competitive, however, it would be surprising if one team appreciably elevated tempo. The 49ers operate at the 15th-fastest situation-neutral pace, and their games average the third-fewest combined plays (121.6). Most of the time, it’s San Francisco dominating possession time and snap counts, as their third-highest +8.6 average snap differential illustrates. They hand off at the fifth-highest rate while games are within one score (46%), and their opponents run against them at the fourth-highest rate (47%).
The Ravens don’t need encouragement to run the ball. Baltimore’s 56% situation-neutral run rate is lapping the second-place Colts (49%), and it’s even higher during the past month (59%). With San Francisco’s middling run defense grade (16th) contrasting sharply with their coverage (second) and pass rush marks (second), it makes even more sense for the Ravens to keep it on the ground. Baltimore ranks dead last in seconds-per-snap rate, both on the season and during the last month, and their league-low two-percent no-huddle rate suggests zero interest in elevated tempo. You’d have to be drunk to advocate benching Lamar Jackson or George Kittle for the game of Week 13, but we need to realize ancillary weapons likely won’t have snap volume on their side.
Fortunately, one side doesn’t have many interesting ancillary weapons to be affected by low play volume. Getting a read on the Ravens in fantasy is far easier than reading where the ball is going in real life. We’re starting Jackson (#analysis), Mark Ingram, Mark Andrews, and Hollywood Brown. That’s it. That’s the list, unless we think Gus Edwards will get off in a blowout – which this doesn’t look like on the surface. Things get foggier in San Francisco, with multiple running backs and receivers conceivably joining Kittle in fantasy lineups. Tevin Coleman hasn’t gotten a significant workload in the best of circumstances, and this won’t be that. Emmanuel Sanders is the 49ers top wideout, but is far from an alpha with Kittle, Deebo Samuel, and a few lesser flies in the ointment. Sanders and Coleman are both palatable in a pinch, but are unlikely to see enough volume to even approach ceiling-game production. Most of these options are better to watch for fun than for fantasy this week.
Los Angeles Chargers at Denver Broncos
The NFL’s version of an afternoon nap returns from their bye week for a surefire snooze-fest in Denver. The Chargers have operated slowly all year, and currently rank 29th in situation-neutral snaps pace. With regular deployment of a pair of viable running backs, a highly targeted tight end, and two talented receivers, Los Angeles purposefully limiting play volume is a kick in the fantasy nuts. Throw in a similar effect for their opponents’ snap counts, on top of an intermittently formidable defense, and things get even more frustrating. Despite producing a robust 69 plays per game during the last month, Chargers contests still average the league’s fewest combined snaps (119.5). There are few signs of hope here, or with most things Chargers.
Speaking of faint signs of hope, we might get our first taste of Drew Lock in Denver. Even if we do, it certainly won’t encourage the Broncos to push the pace. Like the Chargers, their contests average few plays, ranking fifth lowest both on the season and during the last month. Denver grades top-10 in both pass coverage and run defense, leaving a fantasy-unfriendly landscape on which this game’s limited opportunity will play out. The Week 5 meeting between these teams resulted in only 33 combined points and 119 total plays – and it occurred in temperate Los Angeles. Not that many folks were asking, but the answer to most fantasy questions pertaining to this game is “move along.”
Los Angeles has a +4.7 average play differential on the season (fifth highest), and it’s second best during the last four weeks (+14.3), so there’s one positive for the field-goal-favorite Chargers play volume. The matchup isn’t great, but Melvin Gordon, and even Austin Ekeler are tough to argue against. Hunter Henry is locked in at a barren position, while Keenan Allen and Mike Williams are viable as well. We just can’t expect ceiling games from any of them in what should be a low-scoring matchup. Forget starting Broncos in anything but desperate situations. Cortland Sutton is a stud, but whether it’s Brandon Allen shot-putting balls at him or a first-start rookie, his floor is a mile low. Same goes for Noah Fant. We can talk ourselves into Phillip Lindsay, but Royce Freeman pulled back even in snap rate last week and the quality of his touches is questionable at best.
Washington Redskins at Carolina Panthers
It will be hard to beat out the Titans at the Colts for the first game to finish during the early window on Sunday, but this matchup stands a chance. By now we know what Bill Callahan wants, and it’s not victory selfies with fans. He’s there to bench overpaid cornerbacks and run the ball, and he’s almost out of cornerbacks. Washington’s 46% situation-neutral run rate ranks seventh highest, and they’ll take aim at a 11th-lowest-graded Panthers run defense that was barely being held together by now-injured stud run-stopper Dontari Poe. It looks like Adrian Peterson and Derrius Guice are in for more handoffs than a 13-year-old with a Victoria’s Secret catalog.
While the Panthers have been an up-tempo offense, they’re staring at a run funnel as well. Washington is getting run on at the fourth-highest rate over the last month (50%) and their run defense grades ninth worst. During that time, the Panthers have shifted run-heavier, handing off at a 46% clip (seventh highest) as they try to keep Kyle Allen’s meltdowns to a minimum. The average combined plays from their games have slipped from second highest to 10th. While this matchup isn’t a total stay-away, considering Redskins contests average the second-fewest combined plays, we should expect a depressed snap-volume environment in most scenarios.
With the Panthers defense arguably the top non-Christian-McCaffrey play in this game, there obviously aren’t many enticing options on the Washington side. Guice stands out, however, as Callahan tries to pound Carolina’s sieve run defense back to the 80’s. Terry McLaurin can always break one and is worth dart-throw consideration, but that’s where things end. Peterson and Dwayne Haskins aren’t viable even in deep season-long leagues in a week without any teams on bye. Aside from McCaffrey, who will obviously smash Washington’s shoddy, run-funnel defense, D.J. Moore is the best bet Carolina has to offer. Investing in Curtis Samuel or Greg Olsen is as likely to leave us wanting more as it is to pay off in a low-play-volume game in which the Panthers won’t need to throw very often to win.
Considering they were getting pasted by the New York Jets, it was curious to see the Raiders again playing so slowly. Their 30 seconds per snap was 10th slowest on the week, and that pace ranks fourth slowest for the full season. Add that to the fourth-highest run rate while games are within one score (47%), and it becomes clear why Raiders games average the fourth-fewest combined plays (122.5).
Oakland has sported a fairly wide touch distribution throughout the season, with two tight ends, three running backs, and a gaggle of wideouts regularly involved. Producing only the fifth-most plays per game (60.7) doesn’t come close to supporting their fantasy relevant weapons on a regular basis – especially with an inconsistent, risk-averse quarterback.
The Chiefs will theoretically push them to increase their tempo this week, but we’ve seen the Raiders ignore such prodding before. While that doesn’t mean we should ignore this game for fantasy purposes, or Patrick Mahomes can’t reprise his 443-yard day against Oakland, we should keep in mind the ancillary weapons have one side actively working to mute play volume – especially if Josh Jacobs makes early clock-grinding hay against Kansas City’s league-worst-graded run defense.
The Titans had the ninth-slowest seconds-per-snap pace under Marcus Mariota (29.7), despite the many negative game scripts associated with losing four of those opening six games. After a two-game adjustment period with Ryan Tannehill behind center, Tennessee picked up the pace considerably. During the last four weeks, the Titans have run a play every 26.2 seconds – the league’s third-quickest rate.
Tennessee has lost only once over the past month, and last week their seconds-per-snap pace ranked fourth quickest despite leading the Jaguars all game (26.6). During the last four weeks, the Titans rank fifth in no-huddle rate (21% versus 7% under Mariota), and their games average the ninth-most combined snaps (129.7 versus 123.1; seventh fewest). Not only has their offense gotten more efficient, it’s gotten faster.
A trip to Indianapolis will test Tennessee’s tempo, as the Colts rank third slowest in situation-neutral pace, they pass at the second-lowest rate when games are within one score, and their contests average the seventh-fewest combined snaps. If the Titans can help elevate this matchup’s tempo, or even maintain their own fast pace, it will mark one of the quietest turnarounds we’ve witnessed in quite some time.