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Welcome to the Week 15 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
Los Angeles Rams at Dallas Cowboys
The Rams are among the league’s fastest offenses, ranking fourth quickest on both a raw and situation-neutral basis. Their games average the fourth-most combined plays, and Los Angeles’ frenetic pace has contributed to their opponents firing off the league’s second-most snaps (67 per game). Again playing with confidence, Jared Goff is PFF’s highest-graded passer during the last two weeks, and not coincidentally, only Drew Brees has a lower sack rate. During that time, just three teams have averaged more offensive plays than the Rams’ 71.5 – one of which is the Cowboys (72.5). While there is a chance the typically up-tempo Cowboys try to slow the game down with Ezekiel Elliott, Los Angeles’ seventh-highest-graded run defense won’t make it easy.
In Dallas, the Jason Garrett era is finally circling the drain, but at least it’s swirling quickly. Cowboys games average the seventh-most combined snaps (129.5), with even more coming during the last month (132; fifth most). Dallas operates at the second-quickest raw snaps pace, and third quickest while games are close. They are top-10 in no-huddle rate for the season and top-six during the last four weeks. During that time, their already top-10 situation-neutral pass rate ranks sixth highest. Coming off of a mini-bye, it’s reasonable to expect the Cowboys’ offense to tighten up, and each team’s pace to increase play volume for what projects to be a close, back-and-forth matchup (2.5 point spread).
The Cowboys’ sinking defense and the game’s likely elevated volume puts Goff, Todd Gurley, Robert Woods, and Tyler Higbee (if Gerald Everett sits again) in excellent position, while the extra snaps should mitigate the falling playing time of Cooper Kupp. Even spiked volume won’t make Brandin Cooks a comfortable option. For the Cowboys, outside of their four main options, one of Randall Cobb, Jason Witten, or Blake Jarwin will likely benefit from more overall opportunities in a close matchup – but good luck pinpointing which one. On a full slate of games, there are better darts to throw.
Houston Texans at Tennessee Titans
The Titans were predictably sucked into the Raiders’ snap void on Sunday, producing only 59 plays to Oakland’s 60. Of course, they were so ridiculously efficient in scoring 42 points that it didn’t make much difference, and their three main fantasy options all came through with ease. Still, Tennessee continues to speed up on offense. Over the last six weeks, the Titans rank third in no-huddle rate (23%) and 12th in seconds-per-snap pace (27.4). Prior to that, they ranked 12th in no-huddle rate (7%) and 27th in seconds-per-snap (30.1). Their points-per-play rate has doubled from 0.3 (25th) to a league-high 0.6 mark. Titans games averaged the fourth-most combined points during the last month (57.7), versus the sixth fewest before then (40.0). The leap is not entirely attributable to their increased pace, but it has certainly helped.
Now the Titans get a far better pace-based matchup, if only because the Texans are mostly neutral in that regard. Their games average a mid-range 126.7 plays, and Houston operates at the 13th-quickest situation-neutral pace. Their defense is something of a pass funnel, with a 60% opponent pass rate while games are within one score (ninth highest) due in part to the Texans’ 12th-highest-graded run defense and third-lowest-graded pass coverage. During the last month, Houston is operating at the fifth-quickest seconds-per-snap rate, and their games are averaging the ninth-most combined points (49.3) — which is essentially right where they’ve been all season (49.9). This game might not set play volume records, but with the way the Titans are currently rolling, any elevation in snaps brings with it a cathedral fantasy ceiling.
Derrick Henry said his leg would need to be halfway off to stop playing, and you’d be crazy to argue with him. A.J. Brown is winning leagues despite barely seeing five looks per game over the last three, and that sole worry should be mitigated by this matchup’s increased plays. That elevated volume buoys Corey Davis, and even Jonnu Smith if you’re desperate at tight end. For the Texans, Will Fuller’s status is pivotal, as always. If he plays, it boosts Deshaun Watson and shaves a little off of DeAndre Hopkins’ target expectation. With extra snaps expected, that’s nothing to worry about. Kenny Stills and Keke Coutee are in play if Fuller sits, although after two targets last week, few will be brave enough to go back to Stills. Throw them in the same bucket as Jordan Akins, Darren Fells, Duke Johnson, and Carlos Hyde. Each has decent relative upside due to the game’s scoring ceiling, but even if the elevated play volume projection is accurate, more than one will still disappoint. As always, consult Dr. Silva’s Matchups before taking on difficult lineup decisions.
Tampa Bay Buccaneers at Detroit Lions
The Bucs can survive the loss of Mike Evans and remain elite snap catalysts, but if Jameis Winston sits this one out, all bets are off. Nobody keeps both teams in up-tempo, back-and-forth shootouts quite like Winston. Tampa Bay’s games average a league-high 135 combined plays, and they operate at the fifth-quickest seconds-per-snap pace. Plays are plentiful due mainly to their defense’s inescapable pass funnel, as the Bucs grade sixth best in run defense and bottom-12 in pass coverage. Opponents throw against them at the NFL’s highest situation-neutral rate (65%). Only the Dolphins and Raiders allow more points on a per-play basis, and Bucs games average the most combined points by more than a touchdown over second place (58.4 versus 51.2).
The Lions offense was mostly a mess against the Vikings, scoring only one touchdown and enabling Minnesota to coast with a low-risk game plan. Fortunately, they don’t face the Vikings defense on Sunday, and even as Detroit bombed, the matchup delivered from a play volume standpoint with 137 total snaps. Lions games average the second-most combined plays on the season (132.5) and are not far off that over the last four weeks (130.5) – during which time they’re operating at a top-eight seconds-per-snap pace. Their pass rush (30th) and coverage (25th) grade poorly, and it’s no stretch to envision another back-and-forth barnburner when Winston is involved, despite Detroit’s own quarterbacking handicap.
Even elevated play volume doesn’t make the Bucs backfield a safe bet, and we’ll again be choosing between a lead back with no goal line or passing game workload to speak of, and two low-upside role-specific options. Happy hunting. Chris Godwin, however, is in a smash spot with Evans out, and any of Justin Watson, Breshad Perriman, or O.J. Howard are worthy dart throws with matchup and volume on their side. Things are no clearer in the Lions backfield, unless Bo Scarborough can’t suit up. Their more condensed passing game is far more attractive, despite having David Blough behind center. Kenny Golladay and Danny Amendola (44 Week 14 routes even with a healthy Marvin Jones) are both in play against Tampa Bay.
Slow Paced Slogs
Minnesota Vikings at Los Angeles Chargers
There have been small signs of a quickening Vikings offense of late, although those sparks will likely be extinguished by the overwhelming quagmire that is the Chargers pace. Minnesota has the fourth-fastest raw seconds per snap rate over the last month, during which time they’ve gone no-huddle at the fourth-highest rate (16%), their games have averaged the fourth-most combined snaps (132.7), and they’ve passed at the league’s ninth-highest situation-neutral clip (61%). Of course, for the season, the Vikings throw at the eighth-lowest rate while games are within one score, and their middling snaps pace has yielded unremarkable play volume. Minnesota’s elevated tempo and snap counts could easily be a short-term blip brought on by mostly close, high-scoring games with quality opponents. Or perhaps Mike Zimmer was just napping.
The problem with getting too excited about the Vikings’ pace is this week’s foe profiles as the polar opposite of a snap volume catalyst. Los Angeles’ unyielding commitment to draining play clocks and heart rates has resulted in their games averaging lowest combined play totals (119.8). Now that they’re officially eliminated, the Chargers crowd should have about as much life as a fish sucked to its tank’s filter. However, they do feature a top-12 pass defense, and opponents’ path of least resistance is on the ground against Los Angeles’ bottom-12-graded run stopping. This has manifested in the fourth-highest opponent run rate while games are within one score (47%), which hasn’t exactly helped juice overall play volume.
Fortunately, or unfortunately, the Vikings don’t have a wide array of fantasy relevant options, and with Adam Thielen likely to end his month-long injury absence, we can mercifully forget about Bisi Johnson, Laquon Tredwell, and in most cases, Kyle Rudolph. It’s back to Dalvin Cook, Thielen, and Stefon Diggs – who’s standing out in this week’s Air Yards Buy-Low Model. Alexander Mattison can again be mothballed for this low-volume affair, barring unexpectedly negative injury news on Cook. Opponents are throwing against the Vikings at the 10th-highest rate while games are within one score (60%), so despite the overall opportunity crunch, Keenan Allen, Mike Williams, and Hunter Henry remain in play. One will almost certainly underwhelm, of course, and the same can probably be said for Melvin Gordon or Austin Ekeler – but sitting either would require unnaturally strong alternatives. Best to expect mid-range outcomes for everyone, grab some good tequila, and not be disappointed.
Jacksonville Jaguars at Oakland Raiders
On a scale of “trying hard” to “mailing it in,” the Jaguars are about a solid “Nick Cage.” While getting blown out for a month straight is notable, and their -23.5 per-game point differential is depressingly impressive, Jacksonville has turned capitulation into an art form. The one saving grace is their opponents have been able to pile up fantasy production, although things even get dodgy in that area this week. With the Jaguars ranking second slowest in situation-neutral snaps pace, and their fifth-worst-graded run defense an easy target for clock-grinding foes, we might run out of play volume before serious fantasy points can accumulate. Such is life for a team playing out the string on a lame-duck head coach.
Speaking of playing out the string, the Raiders don’t even have a lame duck coach and they’re sprinting for the offseason as quickly as possible. Despite averaging the second-worst point differential during the last month (-19 per game), Oakland is operating at the league’s third-slowest pace regardless of game script (31.7 seconds per snap). Their contests average the third-fewest combined plays (121.8), with a league-low 119 coming during the past four weeks. The Raiders run at the third-highest rate while games are within one score (48%), and that has only been on the rise despite their injured lead back. The game plan will likely again revolve around handoffs against the Jags, with the offense moving at a snail’s pace. Just lose quickly, baby.
With rare bright spot D.J. Chark injured, the target shares of Chris Conley and Dede Westbrook expand, although Nick O’Leary and Keelan Cole will see increased involvement. Add in lower play volume and the ceilings become capped on all four despite a cherry on-paper matchup. Someone will be a fantasy asset, but figuring out which one is tricky. At least we can confidently go back to Leonard Fournette for what should be a tighter game script than last week. Assuming the Raiders don’t rush Josh Jacobs back, DeAndre Washington is a choice start based on Oakland’s narrower backfield touch distribution and a matchup with the pregnable Jags run defense. Jalen Richard is more of a leap, even if the Raiders trail for stretches like last week. After solid tight end option Darren Waller, the receivers are a jumbled, spread-out mess — and Oakland’s low-risk, low-volume passing game does them no favors.
Philadelphia Eagles at Washington Redskins
The first time these teams played, they combined for an above average 129 plays and a meaty 59 points. Considering that was the last time we saw a full-speed DeSean Jackson, it might as well have been last season. The Eagles are now trotting out Greg Ward and Vince Papale at wideout, with a schizophrenic Carson Wentz throwing to them. Philadelphia operates at a middling tempo, ranking 19th in situation-neutral pace and allowing the league’s fifth-fewest plays per game (60.2). They have enjoyed solid play volume, as their +8.2 plays-per-game differential illustrates — and they’ve thrown more of late. The Eagles rank first in situation-neutral pass rate over the last month (66%), versus fifth lowest before then (52%). Their comical receiver depth chart, however, portends a return to the ground.
Speaking of returning to the ground, for months the Redskins have moved at the pace of reanimated corpses. Their games average the second-fewest combined plays (121) and they operate at the league’s slowest situation-neutral pace. Washington ranks dead last, by a good margin, in average snap differential (-12.1) – so considering the stark contrast with the Eagles in that department, we can see where this is headed. Washington’s fifth-highest situation-neutral run rate (47%) will be put to the test by a Philadelphia pass-funnel defense that gets run on at only the fifth-lowest rate while games are within one score (38%). It might be the Eagles, however, who contribute to a draining clock with increased handoffs against the Redskins’ eighth-worst-graded run defense, which has faced the seventh-highest run rate during the last month (47%).
Projecting the Eagles at this point is a foggy business, as Ward was their sole healthy wideout after Monday night, and the backfield is nearly as cloudy. If Jordan Howard is cleared, he’ll join Miles Sanders and emergent Darren Sproles facsimile Boston Scott. Despite a strong matchup, that’s a prohibitive crowd. Zach Ertz and Dallas Goedert will figure prominently in the passing game, and they should at least enjoy decent-to-strong snap volume. As for Washington, with Derrius Guice injured, Adrian Peterson moves back into the “depressingly useable” category reserved for fantasy gamers who love RB3s and hate themselves. Philadelphia’s pass funnel and its Duraflame-level cornerbacks offer some hope for Terry McLaurin and perhaps Kelvin Harmon, but if you go that route, at least make sure there’s another game to watch.
The Patriots are once again on to Cincinnati after a tough loss to the Chiefs, only this time there’s little doubt that it’s a get-right spot for New England. While both offenses are among the league’s fastest, with the Patriots ranking first and the Bengals seventh in situation-neutral pace, it’s hard to see Cincinnati garnering half of the game’s likely elevated play volume. Both teams’ contests rank top-10 in average combined snaps, but they’ve reached that point by far different paths.
For the season, New England ranks first in play differential at +11 per game, while running the most snaps (69.8) and allowing the third fewest on average (58.8). The Bengals don’t have a wide average play differential (+0.2), but they’re almost always either way ahead or way behind in snaps, with 11 of their 14 games having significant gaps: +26, +22, +21, +20, +8, -8, -9, -13, -16, -17, -22. Assuming game script goes as projected, we know who will enjoy the extra plays this week.
The Bengals rank top-10 for most points allowed on a per-snap basis, while the Patriots allow the league’s fewest. Even if Cincinnati manages to get a share of the increased plays, it’s doubtful they’ll do much with them. Consequently, while this matchup screams “up pace” in many ways, being stackable for fantasy is not one of them. New England’s usable fantasy options are thin compared to recent years, but the matchup and extra volume makes this spot more palatable to throw some darts when most have lost their taste for radioactive Patriots options like Sony Michel.
As we feared, the once-frantic pace of the Cardinals continued to slow on Sunday, and the Steelers were the last offense to help them pick up the tempo. Despite trailing for nearly the entire game, Arizona’s 29.6 snaps-per-second pace was only the 23rd fastest of Week 14, and more than three seconds slower than their seasonal average. They went no-huddle on just over one-third of their snaps, but were in little rush to snap the ball.
Even with the Cardinals’ dwindling play volume, we were still able to count on them to juice opponent snap counts. That wasn’t the case on Sunday, as Pittsburgh ran the same meager 57 plays as Arizona. Now the plodding Browns limp into town for what was once marked as a fantasy-friendly shootout, but now has the faint whiff of a trap.
Cleveland operates at a bottom-10 situation-neutral pace, and their contests have underwhelmed from a combined plays standpoint (124.2; seventh fewest). Opponents hand off against them at the ninth-highest rate while games are within one score, bringing Kenyan Drake into play, but further limiting the matchup’s overall fantasy opportunity. There are enough interesting weapons here, along with questionable defenders, to invest selectively — but the play-volume bloom is officially off of this one-time fantasy rose.
The Giants didn’t hold back in Eli Manning’s return, at least during the first half. They didn’t go into a shell from a pace perspective either, despite getting out to a two-touchdown lead in Philadelphia. New York’s 25.4 seconds per snap ranked seventh quickest for Week 14, and it was compiled mostly in neutral-to-positive game script. It squares with their seasonal situation-neutral pace, which ranks eighth fastest. There’s a Hog-Molly-sized list of things that are wrong with the Giants, but at least their pace isn’t one.
A visit from the Dolphins, who might have even fewer healthy receivers than New York’s Week 14 foe, should keep game tempo up. Miami’s games average the seventh-most combined snaps (131.5), they sit just one spot behind the Giants in seconds-per-snap pace on the season, and over the last month they rank fifth in situation-neutral pass rate (62%). One would think the absence of wideouts would force them to the ground, but Ryan Fitzpatrick was still chucking it at more than a 60% clip on Sunday.
With each team’s coverage grading in the bottom five, and both pass rushes bottom-five as well (Miami’s grades dead last), it likely won’t matter that they don’t have Hall of Fame caliber quarterbacks behind center. The pace and play volume should elevate the surprisingly substantial number of fantasy relevant options in this game – particularly on New York’s side. Game stacking the Eli-led Giants and fished-out Dolphins sounds like torture, but you can see a beautifully ugly matchup here if you squint hard enough.