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Welcome to the Week 14 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.
UP IN PACE
Miami Dolphins at New York Jets
This work of art was also our Week 9 beautifully ugly matchup, and it mostly came through. For several reasons, from Indianapolis’ ethered pass catchers to Pittsburgh’s plodding profile, we’re left to go back to the Dolphins and Jets here this week. Times are tough. Credit Miami for making lemonades out of lemons, both in real life and for fantasy purposes. Their last three games had average final scores of 38-25, with top-nine average combined play totals. The Dolphins are top-10 in seconds per snap and regulation plays allowed, while no one gives up more points on a per-play basis. Their coverage grades fifth worst, and Miami’s league-worst-graded pass rush will allow plenty of time for Sam Darnold – who’s fifth-most accurate from a clean pocket – to hook up with whomever he wants.
Darnold actually had his second-highest PFF passing grade of the season last week, but had five different pass catchers drop at least one pass. That won’t happen again. Probably. The Jets remain a faster offense than their seasonal rates suggest, ranking top-five in no-huddle rate and mid-pack in seconds-per-snap pace over the last four weeks, after trudging along the bottom for the season’s first half. Their defense is a premiere pass funnel, grading third in run stopping, fifth worst in pass rush, and facing the third-highest situation-neutral pass rate (64%) – which has launched to a league-high 73% during the last month. Ryan Fitzpatrick passed on 67% of plays while their Week 9 game against the Jets was within one score, and the Dolphins have even fewer legitimate ball-carrying options now (sorry, Pete).
Miami’s limited options make our lives easier from a fantasy angle. Fitzpatrick is your beard-on-fire streamer or DFS tournament option. DeVante Parker is no longer anyone’s secret, but Mike Gesicki still isn’t yet overly popular. Backfield remnant Patrick Laird’s passing game prowess slides nicely into New York’s funnel defense, plus you get retweets when you say his name. Things are trickier on the Jets side, but against the Dolphins’ floundering defense and with reasonably supportive play volume, all of Le’Veon Bell, Robby Anderson, Jamison Crowder, and Ryan Griffin are in play. If you’re still humping that Demaryius Thomas dream on a week with no byes, maybe it’s time for some fantasy hockey.
Kansas City Chiefs at New England Patriots
The Chiefs continue to operate quickly, ranking fifth highest in situation-neutral snaps pace. It hasn’t turned into nearly as much play volume for their offense, which ranks only 25th in plays per game (61.1), as it has for their opponents (65.9; seventh most). Of course, only the Ravens are more efficient scorers, with Kansas City ranking second in points on a per-play basis. Their league-leading 67% situation-neutral pass rate is not only a reflection of their trust in a finally-healthy Patrick Mahomes, but a lack of consistency from a banged up backfield. Whatever the reason they’re a pass-heavy, up-tempo offense, it undoubtedly helps the overall play volume of Chiefs games. Their most glaring deficiency, however, contributes to inconsistent opportunities.
Opponents have attacked Kansas City’s league-worst-graded run defense on 45% of their situation-neutral snaps (fifth highest). Fortunately, the Chiefs usually lead by more than seven points. Even still, they’re allowing the third-most yards per game and per carry on the ground. New England will focus there for as long as they feel they can – which wasn’t very long on Sunday night in Houston. The Patriots have played quickly this season as well, ranking first in situation-neutral pace. Their games average the ninth-most combined snaps, and New England ranks fifth in situation-neutral pass rate. If they can hang with the Chiefs primarily on the ground, however, and not reveal too much before a seemingly inevitable playoff rematch (always a consideration with Bill Belichick teams), the Patriots might shorten this game a bit.
The Chiefs’ tight touch distribution mitigates overall lack of play volume, with Travis Kelce and Tyreek Hill remaining well fed. Branching out from there is where things get thin, and LeSean McCoy, Darwin Thompson, and Sammy Watkins (and Spencer Ware?) are risky plays despite the potential for a general play volume boost. While New England is the likelier bet for elevated opportunities, their touch distribution is tougher to project. Sony Michel is very much in play, as is James White if we project game script to go sideways on the Patriots. Looking at anyone beyond Julian Edelman in the passing game requires some leaps of faith. N’Keal Harry’s snaps were down, but his poor effort on an early interception contributed to that. How much will they come back to him, or Mohamed Sanu after his fourth-down drop? Phillip Dorsett and Jacobi Meyers played the most non-Edelman snaps among wideouts, but are we confident that will be the case on Sunday? All the extra snaps in the world won’t allow us to say for sure, as this standout matchup appears maddeningly foggy for ancillary fantasy targets.
Carolina Panthers at Atlanta Falcons
The Panthers bottomed out and Ron Rivera got sent up the river without his boat. They might be playing like garbage, but they’re still playing quickly – ranking seventh in situation-neutral pace. While that could always change, Norv Turner’s nepotism retains control of the offense — which ranks mid-pack in situation-neutral pass rate. Carolina just coaxed 133 combined snaps out of a game with the slothy Skins, despite getting trampled into the ground. Now they get a rematch of a Week 11 home game with the Falcons in which the offenses combined for 131 plays, but only 32 points – with all but three of those coming from Atlanta. That was the second game of the Falcons’ defensive revival mirage, and the Panthers drove deep inside Atlanta territory five times only to net one field goal. Kyle Allen isn’t good at football, but he’s not so bad that he’ll repeat that meltdown. Probably.
The Falcons offense has had its own share of recent debacles, but the likely return of Julio Jones – and potentially Austin Hooper — will help. When you have the league’s eighth-highest situation-neutral pass rate, it’s good to have your best receivers on the field (#analysis). Even skewing run heavier with Devonta Freeman against a soft run-defense matchup shouldn’t hurt overall play volume too badly if Atlanta keeps up their snaps pace (ninth quickest). The Falcons offense averages the league’s third-most plays (67.3), and the Panthers produce the sixth-most (66.4). Both are over 70 snaps per game during the last month. What this game lacks in efficiency, it can make up for in volume. Probably.
The Panthers’ tight target distribution is further narrowed by Greg Olsen’s concussion, moving fringe fantasy starter Curtis Samuel more squarely onto our radar against PFF’s seventh-worst-graded pass coverage. Despite this matchup’s high-scoring, high-volume potential, we are still looking almost exclusively at D.J. Moore and Christian McCaffrey. Those desperate for tight end help can consider Ian Thomas in Olsen’s absence due to expected volume, if not a strong positional draw. On the Atlanta side, we can project more handoffs than their Week 11 game in Carolina produced, putting Freeman in play for a strong matchup. Matt Ryan won’t repeat his 50 Thanksgiving pass attempts, but he needed less than 60% of that to post over 300 yards against the Panthers last time, as Jones and Calvin Ridley were essentially unstoppable (14 of 16 for 234 yards). Even with elevated play volume, we probably don’t want to dig deeper than that – Russell Gage is a little thin – if Hooper makes his much-anticipated return.
Slow Paced Slogs
Washington Redskins at Green Bay Packers
The Redskins might have pulled a fast one on the Panthers last week, but their offense is still slow as molasses. Bill Callahan remains a handoff fetishist, and with Dwayne Haskins as the alternative, it’s almost hard to blame him for Washington’s 47% situation-neutral run rate (sixth highest). While their mountain of rush attempts has contributed to the league’s slowest situation-neutral snaps pace, and to Redskins games averaging the second-fewest combined plays (121.2), it was wise to keep it on the ground while gaining 8.3 yards per carry against a helpless Panthers’ front on Sunday. The Packers run defense isn’t quite as pregnable, but they do grade fourth lowest and opponents are handing off against them at the eighth-highest situation-neutral rate during the last month (46%).
Green Bay and their ninth-best-graded coverage and pass rush isn’t the only run funnel in this matchup. Washington has faced a 45% run rate during the last month. The Packers’ situation-neutral pass rate has fallen during that time from 61% (ninth highest) to 57% (21st). The average combined plays in their games have dropped from 124.8 four weeks ago (20th), down to 121.7 over the past month (third fewest). While they remain fairly efficient, scoring at the 11th-highest rate on a per-snap basis, Green Bay’s offense has not been consistent and operates deliberately (11th slowest). It is hard to envision the Packers struggling to score at home against the Redskins, but it is not difficult to imagine both teams’ approaches serving to shorten the game and limit the overall fantasy opportunity for each offense’s ancillary options. Or, in Washington’s case, just about everyone.
Derrius Guice exploded in Carolina, and is staring at another solid on-paper matchup. Yet he received only 10 carries and there’s little guarantee he’ll see more in Lambeau. With Adrian Peterson and, now, Chris Thompson each on the field for a third of last week’s snaps, the likely limited play volume in this game renders them all shaky starts. Sadly, Haskins has turned Terry McLaurin into a fancy hood ornament stuck on a Pinto. With the Packers bottom-10 in plays and deploying frustrating rotations, digging deep into their depth chart is dicey. Aaron Jones and Jamaal Williams continue a maddening split, although both can be rolled out in fantasy this week. Beyond Davante Adams, however, there is much uncertainty among Aaron Rodgers’ pass catchers. The best bet is Allen Lazard, who’s been running a healthy number of the downfield routes that enable fantasy-relevant stats on limited volume.
Los Angeles Chargers at Jacksonville Jaguars
The Chargers did the seemingly impossible and stumbled upon another soul-crushing variation of their recurring nightmare. While the manner in which they lost was different, little else about the experience was new. Los Angeles operated deliberately despite trailing from four minutes in until 14 seconds left, and they snapped the ball every 31.6 seconds – the fourth-slowest rate of Week 13. The Chargers elected to hand off on 48% of snaps, rather than watch Philip Rivers force his own benching — which kept the clock grinding. There’s zero reason to expect anything different in Jacksonville, and with Chargers games averaging the league’s fewest combined snaps (119.7), more of the same means less of the opportunity we need for fantasy goodness.
The Jaguars’ 10th-worst-graded run defense has been a ripe target for opponents of late, so Melvin Gordon and Austin Ekeler are likely to be held back only by Los Angeles’ play volume. Both defenses profile as run funnels, although Chargers opponents have been more apt to take advantage as they’ve deployed a 47% situation-neutral run rate (fourth highest). The Jaguars had the 10th lowest pass rate while games were within one score under Gardner Minshew (56%), but over the last four weeks with Nick Foles back, that rate popped to 68% (second highest). Foles’ benching should equate to more handoffs. With the Jaguars operating at the league’s second-slowest situation-neutral rate, and the Chargers the third slowest, the game’s main attraction is finding just out how creatively Los Angeles will lose this time.
Gordon is close to a must-play, and it’s hard to sit Ekeler as long as he’s seeing touches in the mid-teens. We never know who it’ll be, but despite their efficiency at least one of Keenan Allen, Mike Williams, or Hunter Henry will disappoint based purely on volume. Last week it was Henry (three targets), but this week he’s made an appearance in this week’s Air Yards Buy-Low Model. On the Jacksonville side, Leonard Fournette is a certified beast in both the rushing and receiving game. Not so much the goal-line game. With Minshew reinserted, we’re looking at Fournette, D.J. Chark, and Dede Westbrook, based on the rookie’s previous work. For now, Chris Conley returns to the “looks sweet on Player Profiler” bin.
Indianapolis Colts at Tampa Bay Buccaneers
This is the first time a Bucs game has been in this section. Usually it’s at the top with the fast-paced matchups, and this is more of a warning than a locked-in prediction of play-volume doom. On a slate infested with low-upside games, investing in this spot will be hard to resist – but overdoing it is more risky than is typical in Tampa Bay. The Colts operate at the fourth-slowest situation-neutral pace, and it’s led directly to their games averaging the ninth-fewest combined plays. Their pass-catching corps has been gutted by injury, but even before that, the Colts were run-heavy. Indianapolis hands off at the league’s third-highest rate while games are within one score (48%), and they likely won’t be dissuaded much by Tampa Bay’s sixth-highest-graded run defense – especially while backed by the third-highest-graded run blocking. Just don’t ask who will get the majority of the backfield touches.
For all of the Bucs’ volume-generating attributes – their games average the league’s most combined snaps (134.8) – they don’t play very fast. Their situation-neutral pace ranks just 15th highest, and Tampa passes at only the 18th-highest rate while games are within one score. They are currently field-goal favorites. The Colts’ eighth-worst-graded run defense will be a welcome sight, even if we aren’t exactly sure who their main runner will be either. While there is little doubt they have enormous potential for chunk passing plays, Indianapolis tends to limit them – allowing the 10th-fewest passes of 20-plus yards. With one plodding offense hell-bent on handing off, and another moderately paced unit that will lean run heavy if it’s working, the clock might just grind a good deal faster than we’re used to seeing in Tampa Bay.
It’s also hard to get overly excited for a matchup in which Jack Doyle is the premiere option to game-stack with Bucs pass catchers. He and Zach Pascal are the Colts’ lone viable passing game bets, and both have questionable ceilings. And while Jordan Wilkins is the slight favorite for early-downs touches, good luck whacking moles in that backfield. Mike Evans and Chris Godwin are obviously always in play, and going back to them at presumably lowered ownership is a consistently sharp strategy. Still, with Breshad Perriman and O.J. Howard apparently now lurking, and the specter of reduced overall play volume, it’s not inconceivable they could again underwhelm. One of them usually does anyway.
If the Titans aren’t careful, we might start thinking they have a 21st century offense, with actual game plans and everything. Their third straight win came with a new season high in no-huddle rate (33%), and Tennessee now sports the third-highest hurry-up percentage since Ryan Tannehill took over as starting quarterback. Since Marcus Mariota was benched, the Titans have shaved off more than 1.5 seconds per snap, and their points per game average leapt from a meager 16.3 (28th most) to 29.7 points. Only the Ravens have scored more on a per-game basis.
Tennessee’s matchup in Oakland more confidently shapes up as a high-scoring affair than for elevated play volume. The Raiders allow the third-most points per snap, while their games average the third-fewest combined plays. Oakland operates at a fairly deliberate situation-neutral pace (19th), and while their defense is a pass funnel, it’s no lock the Titans will go pass-heavy. Raiders opponents have thrown at a 63% rate (fifth highest), due in large part to their sixth-worst-graded coverage and eighth-graded pass rush. The Titans, however, have held firm to a 56% pass rate both before and after Tannehill’s ascension.
The steadily moderate pass rate and potentially muted play volume in Oakland leaves A.J. Brown as the lone confident fantasy pass catcher on the Titans. They spread the ball around evenly, and none of Corey Davis, Adam Humphries, or Jonnu Smith are more than short-slate darts or desperation deep-league options. Derrick Henry, of course, is in full Abominable Snowman mode by now, with plenty of volume over the last month. As for the Raiders, we’re still rolling Josh Jacobs out despite barely getting half of the snaps (and less than half the pass routes) in a three-way backfield. Darren Waller predictably got a boost in Hunter Renfrow’s absence, and is the only other confident play. Tyrell Williams’ volume concerns are magnified in this spot.
As the Titans sped up during the last month, the Cardinals have done the same. Their 25.8 seconds-per-snap rate over their past three games ranks fourth quickest. While it certainly has been influenced in part by game script, it’s still a major leap above their pace from the previous three games (29.0). It has also been accompanied by a jump in situation-neutral pass rate, from 53% in Weeks 6-9 (24th) to 66% the past month (sixth highest). After Sunday’s debacle, however, we may see that fall again.
Following a winless opening month, in which Arizona passed at the league’s second-highest situation-neutral rate (69%), they slowed down and threw on only 47% of dropbacks during a 3-0 revival. Playing three stooges from Cincinnati, Atlanta, and New York certainly helped that record, but the adjustment stands out because we might see it again Sunday during a lower-volume game than we’re used to in Arizona.
Steelers opponents attack them on the ground at the eighth-highest situation-neutral rate (45%), and they do very little to juice overall play volume themselves. Their games average the seventh-fewest combined snaps and they operate at the ninth-slowest seconds-per-snap rate. On the season, Pittsburgh passes at a bottom-10 clip while games are close (56%), and during the last month it’s gone the way of Mason Rudolph’s chances of a second contract (52%; fourth lowest). All season long we’ve seen the Cardinals inject play volume into their matchups, even if only for their opponents. If they’re not inclined to do it in this game, the Steelers certainly won’t do it for them.