Welcome to the Week 17 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.
If you’re still reading this before the last week of the regular season, congrats on being a true sicko diehard – or condolences on having your league championship decided by an uber volatile slate. Either way, at this point we can still project pace before the last-minute pregame craziness arrives. For more player-specific news and matchup analysis, we’ll have no shortage of resources available throughout the week. Happy Holidays, you animals, and thank you for reading all season.
UP IN PACE
Atlanta Falcons at Tampa Bay Buccaneers
A rematch of an up-pace Week 12 matchup that also had no playoff implications, we’re hoping for a reprise of its combined 57 points and 142 plays. Falcons games have been consistently voluminous, averaging the fifth-most combined snaps (129.9). They operate at a top-12 pace during neutral situations, and throw at the league’s fourth-highest rate while games are within one score (62%). With the third-most snaps (71.5) and ninth-most points per game over the last month (27.8), we can expect the Falcons and their seventh-worst-graded pass coverage to contribute to a fertile fantasy environment.
Speaking of fantasy-friendly environments, Tampa Bay has led the league in that category all season. Their games average league-highs in both combined snaps (134.4) and combined points (57.1) They are light years ahead of the pack in the later, as the second-place Ravens average 51.7 combined points in their contests. Someone would need to be living under a rock to not know about the Bucs pass-funnel defense, which faces the league’s highest opponent pass rate during neutral situations (64%). While Tampa Bay’s coverage is improving – their grade has risen to 13th best – a seemingly impenetrable run defense keeps opponents dropping back and elevating pace.
Philadelphia Eagles at New York Giants
Operating with a lead for nearly the entire game against the Cowboys on Sunday, the Eagles deployed a moderate seconds-per-snap pace and wound up with a meaty 71 plays. It paled in comparison to the 85 snaps they ran against the Giants a few weeks ago, and despite a rash of injuries to their offense, Philadelphia’s games have produced elevated play volume of late. Their situation-neutral pass rate has jumped from 56% through Week 12 (23rd highest) to 64% during the last month (third highest). Who needs wide receivers anyway? Combined with a 62% opponent pass rate both for the season (fourth highest) and over the last four weeks (third highest), there are more balls in the air at an Eagles game than a senior citizens’ sauna.
The Giants tend to find themselves in games with plenty of plays and, often, a bunch of points. During the last four weeks, their already high-scoring contests are up to 54 combined points per game (sixth highest) and average the seventh-most combined snaps (132). They operate at a top-eight situation-neutral pace and throw at the league’s sixth-highest rate while games are within one score (62%). New York’s defense profiles perfectly for play volume, as their ascendant run stopping grades seventh best, while their coverage (second worst) and pass rush (ninth worst) have enticed opponents to throw at the fourth-highest situation-neutral rate over the last month (62%). The Eagles don’t even need such a tasty excuse to air it out in a must-win matchup.
Tennessee Titans at Houston Texans
Despite their Week 15 meeting leaving us wanting a little more, the combined 130 plays were above average – even if the 24-21 final score didn’t smash. A peek under the hood reveals a potential point eruption, as Deshaun Watson interceptions at the Tennessee 1-yard-line and in the endzone took away points, and the Titans had a blocked field goal and a Ryan Tannehill faultless pick at the Houston 2-yard-line. With playoff implications for Tennessee and Bill O’Brien at least pretending Houston will play to win, the matchup has serious potential if it plays out almost the same as two weeks ago.
Over the last month, the Titans are operating at a mid-range seconds-per-snap pace – which is quick for them – and going no-huddle at the third-highest rate. During that time, their games are averaging the fifth-most combined points (55.5). The offense is still enjoying a boost from Tannehill, in both tempo and scoring efficiency. The Texans also have been playing in bountiful games, with a 50-point average combined score over the last four weeks. Both defenses are suspect in coverage, and the Titans grade fifth worst in pass rush, with the Texans sliding to seventh worst. With both teams featuring top-10-graded run defenses, the path of least resistance will be through the air – which tends to lead to elevated play volume.
SLOW PACED SLOGS
Los Angeles Chargers at Kansas City Chiefs
The Chargers once again lollygagged to a mostly disappointing performance, this time against one of the league’s worst defenses. The siren song of an offense chock full of big-name fantasy options consistently proves too enticing to ignore, despite Los Angeles’ indifferent pace slamming a low ceiling on their games. A pitiful 56 snaps will always leave multiple Chargers short on opportunity, and it wasn’t that far below their seasonal average of 61.5 snaps. Their games average the second-fewest combined plays (119.3), and Los Angeles operates at a bottom-five situation-neutral pace. Facing constantly hostile crowds only goes so far as an excuse, and a game in Kansas City won’t help on that front.
The Chiefs have gone from fast-paced snap catalysts to slow-moving game script dictators as their defense has begun to gel. Leading the league in points allowed since Week 11, they’ve altered their offensive profile as well. Through 10 games, the Chiefs passed on a league high 69.2% of plays while games were within one score. It’s 57.5% since (19th highest). Their seconds-per-snap pace ranked 11th quickest (28.2) and is 28th since (30.3). Kansas City averaged the 21st more plays and allowed the ninth most. They’ve since flipped it to producing the 14th most and giving up only the 25th. The total volume in Chiefs games has crashed, from the ninth-most combined snaps to the 26th most. Despite a matchup rich in fantasy options, with Kansas City still shooting for a bye, a handful of weapons will be left out in the cold due to the game’s overall lack of opportunity.
Indianapolis Colts at Jacksonville Jaguars
When these teams faced off in Week 11, Nick Foles was still starting for the Jaguars, D.J. Chark was fully healthy, Eric Ebron hadn’t shut himself down, and T.Y. Hilton was on the shelf. That said, expecting a materially different outcome from a game that produced a sub-par 121 combined plays is likely asking too much. The Colts operate at a bottom-eight situation-neutral pace and their contests typically produce moderate-to-low play volume levels. They hand off at the third-highest rate while games are within one score (48%). That was their Week 11 approach, which resulted in Jacoby Brissett throwing only 21 passes and two running backs cresting 100 yards on the ground.
The Jaguars are even slothier than the Colts, operating at the second-slowest pace during neutral situations. Seemingly in a hurry only to finish the season, Jacksonville has an -8.3 average play differential during the last month. Their offense can’t stay on the field, the defense can’t get off of it, and it hasn’t mattered who is taking the snaps. The Jaguars have the fourth-worst-graded run defense and opponents have taken full advantage, averaging 32 carries for 176 yards (5.5 per attempt) and two rushing touchdowns per game over their last seven contests. While there is the odd fantasy play to be made in this one – Marlon Mack sticks out like a sore thumb – a back-and-forth affair with plenty of plays is an unlikely outcome.
Oakland Raiders at Denver Broncos
The Raiders somehow still have a snowball’s chance in hell of making the playoffs, which is roughly the same likelihood they’ve had all season. Either way, we can expect them to stay the course as a result – and it is a ponderous course, indeed. Oakland operates at a bottom-12 situation-neutral pace, but their raw snaps pace more accurately tells the story. Despite existing in mostly negative game scripts – they rank fourth worst in average point differential (-7 per game) – the Raiders have maintained the league’s third-slowest seconds-per-snap pace. They hand off at the fourth-highest situation-neutral rate (47%) in an apparent search of friendly losses. Consequentially, their games average the fourth-fewest combined plays (121.7).
With the Raiders just biding time until Vegas, a pit stop in Denver won’t prompt them to play fast and take chances. The Broncos have shown life since rookie Drew Lock was installed behind center, but they aren’t exactly pushing the pace either. Denver also operates at a bottom-12 situation-neutral rate and their games average the fifth-fewest combined plays (122) – with even fewer coming during the last month (119.8). They have a relative weakness in pass defense, but opponents continue to hand off at the second-highest situation-neutral rate (48%). The odds that Derek Carr suddenly flings the ball around enough to boost this game’s pace are roughly the same as your drunk uncle avoiding politics at Christmas – or the same as Oakland’s playoff chances.
Thanks in large part to their up-pace approach, with a strong assist from Ryan Fitzpatrick – the Dolphins have been an exciting and fantasy-friendly offense. They operate at a top-10 situation-neutral pace, and during the last month, Fitzpatrick has passed at the second-highest rate while games are within one score. Consequently, Dolphins games are averaging the most combined plays, by far, over the last four weeks (142.3).
A matchup with the similarly up-tempo Patriots has hallmarks of a back-and-forth affair with elevated play volume. Of course, we need the “back” to balance the “forth,” and it’s questionable if the Dolphins are up to the task. Other than a Week 11 visit from the Bills, the recent run Miami’s been on is littered with pushover defenses. The bye-motivated Patriots are not that. Despite the Patriots’ league-fastest situation-neutral pace, assuming this matchup will be voluminous is dangerous. There’s no harm in a tiny taste, though, and hoping for some holiday FitzMagic.
The Cardinals’ trip to Los Angeles carries similar pace-based promise as Dolphins-Patriots does, at least on the surface. The Rams operate at a top-three situation-neutral pace, and their games average the third-most combined plays (131.4). Of course, they might not have to face a hamstrung Kyler Murray, but even if they do, there’s another wrench in the plan. Arizona’s breakneck pace continues to erode as the season wears on.
The Cardinals might still have the fifth-quickest seconds-per-snap pace on the year, but during the last four weeks it ranks a surprising 19th fastest. They still lead the league in no-huddle rate for the season (30%), but didn’t run a single hurry-up play on Sunday. Arizona’s situation-neutral pass rate, which was second highest after a month (69%), is third lowest during the last four weeks (50%). Their games averaged the fifth-most combined snaps at midseason, but the 10th fewest during the last month. Murray isn’t the only thing the Cardinals might be missing on Sunday.
The Steelers and Ravens matchup is marginally interesting, if only because a handful of seldom used players, like Robert Griffin III and Justice Hill, will play over high-value starters. We also get to see if Baltimore can do everyone a favor and ensure we don’t have to watch Pittsburgh’s quarterbacks in the playoffs. From a pace perspective, however, this game has little to offer.
Both the Ravens and the Steelers operate at bottom-five situation-neutral paces. During the last month, Pittsburgh’s games average the second-fewest combined plays (119.5) and Baltimore’s the fifth fewest (120.3). The Steelers lean run heavy, the Ravens are redefining the term, and neither is likely to taste offensive success in a game that will mercifully be over quickly thanks to a constantly grinding clock. Stay far away for fantasy.
While the Redskins remain a plodding outfit, hell bent on handing off as much as possible, at least their game with the Giants showed they can be pulled into an interesting offensive affair. Washington’s 67 plays were their most since hitting 68 in Week 3, and the 35 points were easily a season high. Helped by a deficit and Case Keenum’s presence, they passed on 56% of situation-neutral plays – which, for handoff fetishist Bill Callahan, is like pregaming peyote before The Nutcracker.
The Cowboys can’t pull their head out of their ass, but perhaps can pull the Redskins into another surprisingly fun game. Back in Week 2, they combined for 52 points on paltry play volume (120 total snaps). Dallas’ games average the fourth-most combined plays on the season (130.2), with even more coming over the last month (136). They operate at a top-five situation-neutral pace, and are the kind of truly schizophrenic operation that can both delight and disgust us within the same week. Here’s hoping that’s the case.