Divisional Round Saturday
4:35 PM ET Game
Seattle @ Atlanta
Vegas Score Projection: Falcons 28.25, Seahawks 23.25
Rivaling the 2007 Patriots in some metrics, the 2016 Falcons piled up 28 points or more in nine of ten games to close out the season and were particularly unstoppable after their Week 11 bye, averaging 36.7 points per game over the final six weeks while rolling over the respected defenses of Kansas City, Arizona, Los Angeles, and Carolina. Matt Ryan visited Seattle’s CenturyLink Field in Week 6 and lit up Pete Carroll’s defense for 335 yards and three scores in a two-point loss the Falcons led 24-17 into the fourth quarter. The Seahawks will likely have to score above expectation to hang with Atlanta because MVP-favorite Ryan won’t be stopped as the field general of the NFL’s most diverse and multiple offense, in which Ryan set an NFL record by hitting 13 different players for touchdown passes in 2016. While Ryan’s DFS popularity may be lowered by a perceived-worrisome matchup, just as significant is Atlanta’s matchup-proof offensive bankability drawing an Earl Thomas-less Seattle defense indoors in a potential shootout. … Falcons-Seahawks sports a 51.5-point total – second highest on the Divisional Round slate – with Atlanta favored by five. While Seattle’s No. 2 DVOA-rated run defense is an obvious obstacle, the spot is strong for Devonta Freeman as a home-favorite lead runner who was OC Kyle Shanahan’s back of choice when the Falcons visited the Seahawks in Week 6, logging 15 touches on a 54% snap rate to Tevin Coleman’s six touches on a 46% playing-time clip. Freeman offers enhanced touchdown odds at home, scoring 12 of his 14 TDs at the Georgia Dome while Coleman registered 8 of his 11 scores on the road. Averaging 17.5 touches per game to Coleman’s 11.8 over the past six weeks, Freeman is the higher-floor DFS play with a better shot to find pay dirt. Coleman is always an all-purpose big-play threat, although Seattle allowed the NFL’s sixth fewest receptions (69) and third fewest 20-plus-yard runs (5) to running backs. Due to the Seahawks offense’s tendency to implode in road games, I think Freeman and the Falcons’ D/ST make for an enticing low-owned correlation play in DFS tournaments.
Eased back from his toe injury in Week 16, Julio Jones was unleashed in Atlanta’s Week 17 win over New Orleans, parlaying nine targets into 7-96-1 receiving on 80% of the snaps to finish 39 yards shy of T.Y. Hilton for the NFL lead (1,448). Now rested after a first-round bye, Julio draws a back-home rematch with a Seahawks defense he shredded for 7-139-1 on nine targets in Week 6. Ryan didn’t back down from targeting Julio in single coverage against Richard Sherman, and the Falcons used pre-snap motion to scheme Jones into favorable draws. On Julio’s 36-yard TD, the Falcons motioned a tight end outside to occupy Sherman’s coverage, turning Julio into a slot receiver matched up with S Kelcie McCray. Jones got wide open for the score. Julio lost another 23-yard catch to a holding call. Sherman is still a great corner, but he has system-driven assignments that prevent him from chasing No. 1 receivers on every play. Shanahan’s Falcons deftly exploited them in Week 6. … While Atlanta’s running game struggled, Mohamed Sanu chipped in as a chain mover in Week 6 with a 5-47-1 stat line on ten targets including a ten-yard touchdown on a little zone-beater route away from Seattle’s stationary slot defender. Sanu finished second on the Falcons behind Freeman (17) in red-zone targets (13), although he averaged just 3.5 targets per game over the final month. Due to his low cost on full-PPR DFS sites, Sanu offers value-play appeal with an outside shot to lead the Falcons in catches. … Gadget guy Taylor Gabriel was not yet a big part of Atlanta’s offense in Week 6. Based on usage distributions with all Falcons pass catchers at full strength, Gabriel is in line to play around 50% of Atlanta’s snaps and draw 4-6 targets, and will need a long touchdown to hit. 5-foot-8, 167-pound Gabriel finished seventh on the team in red-zone targets (6) and scored four of his six touchdowns from 35 or more yards out. All-World FS Earl Thomas’ (broken leg) absence doesn’t hurt Gabriel’s chances of getting behind Seattle’s defense. … Blocking tight end Levine Toilolo had his career-best game (3-69-1) at CenturyLink in Week 6, getting wide open for a 46-yard touchdown on a badly blown coverage. The Falcons are getting back rookie TE Austin Hooper, who was playing ahead of Toilolo until Hooper sprained his MCL in Week 15. As Josh Perkins and D.J. Tialavea have also recently played snaps in the rotation, Falcons tight ends are tough box-score sells at Seattle.
Russell Wilson is flush with matchup-driven factors working in his Divisional Round favor indoors at the Georgia Dome for a possible shootout versus a Falcons team that forced its opponents to attempt a league-high 40.9 passes per game and allowed the NFL’s fifth most passing touchdowns (31). Atlanta’s defense is conceptually similar to the defense against which Wilson practices every day after Falcons coach Dan Quinn spent four years on Pete Carroll’s defensive staff and several members of Quinn’s staff followed him from Seattle. More worrisome is the Seahawks’ tendency to tank in road games, often due to offensive-line breakdowns and subsequent panicked play from Wilson, who managed an 8:8 TD-to-INT ratio on the road versus a 13:3 TD-to-INT ratio at home and fell flat even in premium away-game matchups with the Saints and Packers. Whereas last week’s bout with Detroit went surprisingly smooth, we can’t be surprised if this week’s version of Wilson is a bit more of a roller coaster. I’m not doubting Wilson’s ceiling, but it’s fair to question his floor. As mentioned above, I also think the Falcons’ D/ST is in play. Atlanta’s high-scoring offense is capable of putting Wilson in negative-script situations, increasing his number of dropbacks and opportunities for the Falcons to amass sacks and cause general disruption. The matchup between Falcons OLB Vic Beasley (15.5 sacks) and Seahawks RT Garry Gilliam will be one to watch. Seahawks LT George Fant has been an especially painful liability. … Thomas Rawls has also fallen victim to Seattle’s road meltdowns, averaging 78.8 total yards per game with three TDs at CenturyLink but only 33.5 yards with one score in away games. Too often torpedoed by Seattle’s dysfunctional running-game unit, Rawls did remind us last week of his big-game potential, running violently between the tackles and making sharp jump cuts to escape backfield penetration. The Seahawks upped FB Marcel Reece’s playing time (44%) and ran more Power-I formations, gashing Detroit. The 2016 Falcons allowed the NFL’s sixth most yards per carry (4.51 YPC) and were hit for a sturdy 54-298-2 (5.52 YPC) rushing line by enemy backs over their final three games. Matchup won’t be as big of an obstacle for Rawls as negative game script on the road as a five-point dog and any impediments caused by rocky line play.
The Falcons held Doug Baldwin in check (4-31-0) in Week 6, moving Desmond Trufant inside to chase Baldwin into the slot while Jimmy Graham (6-89-0) worked in the lead receiver role. Trufant (pectoral) has since hit I.R. As Graham has faded, Baldwin has reemerged as Wilson’s go-to guy with 52 targets to Graham’s 20 over the past five weeks. Now covering the slot for Atlanta is Brian Poole, an undrafted rookie who has held up reasonably well. Willie Snead (3-82-0), Jordan Matthews (6-73-0), Tavon Austin (7-62-0), Tyreek Hill (5-53-0), Larry Fitzgerald (4-53-0), and Jeremy Kerley (5-28-0) were notable slot receivers to face Atlanta in the second half of the season. Baldwin is averaging just 47.1 yards on the road compared to 95.0 at home. Projected pass-heavy script and Baldwin’s double-digit-target upside keep him firmly in the top-five DFS receiver discussion, competing with Julian Edelman, Davante Adams, and DeAndre Hopkins behind Antonio Brown, Julio Jones, and Dez Bryant. … Matchups haven’t spiked Jimmy Graham lately, underwhelming in plus draws with Green Bay (1-16-0) and Detroit (3-37-0). Down the stretch of his return from a patellar tendon tear, the Seahawks have dialed back Graham’s snaps and overall usage. Even as his passing-game role has waned, this matchup’s high-scoring probability and sheer touchdown odds make Graham Week 19’s No. 2 DFS tight end play behind Travis Kelce. Graham led the 2016 Seahawks in red-zone targets (18), while the Falcons allowed the NFL’s ninth most catches (86) and yards (988) to tight ends. … Jermaine Kearse managed 3-35-0 receiving on five targets against the Falcons in Week 6, a typical line from the NFL’s most pedestrian pass catcher. Last week, Kearse was out-snapped (64%), out-targeted (3), and out-produced (2-14-0) by speedster Paul Richardson (75%, 4, 3-48-1), who may have earned more of Wilson’s trust with a deep back-shoulder grab for 27 yards followed by a Beckhamian one-handed touchdown catch and another circus grab along the sideline over the top of Lions RCB Nevin Lawson. Kearse’s sheer field presence keeps him in play as a minimum-priced shot in the dark, but Richardson has passed him as the superior punt. … Graham left the field briefly early in last week’s win, but it’s notable that he was out-snapped (55%) by No. 2 tight end Luke Willson (60%). While Graham is a far bigger part of the passing game, Willson has earned a steady dose of snaps.
Score Prediction: Falcons 34, Seahawks 24
8:15 PM ET Game
Houston @ New England
Vegas Score Projection: Patriots 30.25, Texans 14.25
Favored by over two touchdowns at home, the Patriots should control Saturday’s late game against a clearly inferior opponent New England has waxed 27-0 and 27-6 in two meetings since ex-Bill Belichick assistant Bill O’Brien became the Texans' head coach. Capitalizing on positive script, the Patriots were able to lean on their running game in both dates, executing 31:30 and 39:19 run-to-pass ratios and hammering LeGarrette Blount for a 24-105-2 rushing line in New England’s Week 3 shutout win, albeit with Jacoby Brissett at quarterback. A pass-heavy approach to begin the game is likelier now, but Blount will remain a strong bet for touchdowns as he was all season. Blount led the NFL in rushing scores (18) and hit pay dirt nine times in the seven games New England won by at least two TDs, which they are projected to do here. Blount’s biggest obstacle is Houston’s shutdown run defense, which has held enemy backs to a combined 180-600-2 (3.33 YPC) rushing line over its last ten games. … Dion Lewis settled into a fairly consistent late-season role, logging snap rates of 37% > 36% > 40% with touch totals of 20 > 17 > 13 in Weeks 15-17 while James White’s touches were 6 > 4 > 6 on 32% > 26% > 31% playing-time clips. Lewis’ scoring-position role picked up in New England’s final two games with nine combined red-zone touches, including four inside the ten-yard line. Blount is going to vulture goal-line chances, but Lewis’ usage has stabilized and he looks like a better bet to hit pay dirt than his scoreless regular season suggests. Due to Houston’s run-defense stoutness and an illness that kept Blount out of Wednesday and Thursday’s practices, it’s conceivable the Patriots will make space-back Lewis a foremost part of this week’s game plan. … As Lewis came off the PUP list at midseason, White handled between 2 and 7 touches in each of the Patriots’ final ten games. The 2016 Texans allowed the NFL’s fifth fewest catches (69) to running backs. … While Houston was game planning against Connor Cook, Tom Brady and Bill Belichick had an extra week to prepare for ex-Belichick lieutenant Romeo Crennel’s Texans defense during their first-round playoff bye. A Divisional Round DFS bet on Brady is still a bet on the greatest quarterback in history and against Brady’s tough matchup. Houston finished top five in pass-defense DVOA, combining an at-times dominant pass rush with top-ten secondary play. Two Texans DBs we may see Brady target are SS Quintin Demps (hamstring) – or his backup Corey Moore – and slot corner Kareem Jackson, who will have his hands full with Julian Edelman’s quickness. New England’s passing game can stay matchup proof against even the NFL’s premier defenses due to its heavy use of option routes, whose effectiveness is dictated more by Brady’s timing with Edelman than by whomever is guarding him. As the Pats are fresh off a bye and their dome-team opponent is visiting Foxboro in mid-January, an ideal plan of attack would be to play up-tempo offense and go up by multiple early scores, upping Brock Osweiler’s dropback volume and forcing the Texans out of their already-limited strengths.
While Edelman was out with a foot injury, Brady targeted Jackson in coverage a team-high nine times when the Patriots visited the Texans in Week 14 last season. Jackson was less of a liability this year, but he is likely to be more vulnerable than breakout RCB A.J. Bouye and plays the position the Pats most often attack due to Edelman’s high-volume slot role, where he averaged 7.1 catches and 12.6 targets across the final seven games after Rob Gronkowski (chest, back) went down in Week 10. Edelman offers one of the safest floors and highest PPR ceilings on the Divisional Round slate. … Patriots perimeter receiver roles are up for grabs following the Week 17 emergence of Michael Floyd, who laid a vicious downfield block on Dolphins CB Tony Lippett to spring Edelman for his 77-yard score and converted a beastly 14-yard touchdown of Floyd’s own, powering through a sea of Miami defenders to cross the stripe after catching a red-zone slant from Brady. Danny Amendola (ankle) and Malcolm Mitchell (knee) are due back from injuries. Chris Hogan consistently played over 85% of the Patriots’ offensive snaps all year. Usage is uncertain, rendering Floyd, Mitchell, and Hogan three risky dart throws in a difficult draw who obviously maintain touchdown upside simply by sharing the field with Brady. … Martellus Bennett can be counted on to play around 80% of the snaps, and it’s possible his long-balky ankle will be healthier coming off New England’s first-round bye. Purely a touchdown-or-bust tight end due to his low-volume usage, Bennett drew between 2 and 5 targets in each of the Patriots’ final seven games, clearing 40 yards once. The Texans played tough tight end defense all season, surrendering the NFL’s third fewest yards (566) to the position while checking Travis Kelce (5-34-0), Delanie Walker twice (5-35-0, 2-34-0), Jared Cook (3-19-0), Kyle Rudolph (2-15-0), Antonio Gates (0-0), and Bennett (2-10-0).
As 15-point underdogs in Foxboro, the Texans have Week 19’s lowest team total (14.25) and are an unlikely source of passing-game DFS value beyond comeback-mode hypotheticals where throwing volume gets elevated and a box-score someone happens to benefit. In these clubs’ Week 3 meeting, Brock Osweiler did drop back to pass 43 times – his second highest total of the season – but managed 190 scoreless yards in Houston’s 27-0 shutout loss. The Patriots played vanilla defense, sending just four blitzes all game while putting clamps on DeAndre Hopkins (4-56-0) and Will Fuller (3-31-0) out wide. A repeat vanilla approach would probably work against Osweiler, although a more aggressive game plan would enhance New England’s D/ST outlook. Executing a bend-but-don’t-defense, the 2016 Patriots allowed a league-low 15.6 points per game and showed some playmaking ability with the NFL’s third most forced fumbles (19), ninth most fumble recoveries (10), and a top-15 finish in interceptions (13). … Albeit with J.J. Watt still playing for Houston and Jacoby Brissett quarterbacking the Patriots, the Texans did stay competitive enough for three quarters in these teams’ first meeting that Lamar Miller rang up 107 yards on 25 touches. While game script is still a major concern, Miller is assured of remaining the focal point of Houston’s Week 19 game plan after retaking bellcow work in commanding Wild Card Round fashion, amassing a season-high 31 carries on 71% of the snaps and hitting pay dirt for a third straight game. Miller’s matchup is also worrisome against a Patriots run defense that finished No. 4 in Football Outsiders’ DVOA and limited enemy backs to a combined 111-365-0 (3.29 YPC) rushing line over its final seven games. Incredibly, the Patriots haven’t allowed a rushing touchdown since Week 8. The spot and matchup are about as bad as it gets for Miller. He is a low-percentage, contrarian bet for a big game, an obviously unlikely feat made not entirely impossible by Miller’s high-volume usage.
The Patriots have checked DeAndre Hopkins in each of their last two meetings, holding him to stat lines of 4-56-0 and 3-52-0 in Week 3 this year and Week 14 of 2015. Logan Ryan mainly stuck to Hopkins both times and allowed him next to no separation, limiting Hopkins to difficult catches along the sideline with nothing after the catch. Hopkins’ lone big play was a 40-yard fourth-quarter garbage-time bomb with Houston trailing 27-0 and 3:11 left in the 2015 meeting. While Hopkins’ matchup isn’t easy, his volume should be bankable with a team-high 43 targets over the past four games and 18 targets in under seven quarters since Osweiler retook the quarterback reins. If Houston indeed falls behind by multiple scores, target vacuum Hopkins would be the likeliest Texan to benefit. … Malcolm Butler dominated his Week 3 clash with Will Fuller, allowing zero catches on five targets into his coverage against the rookie while forcing Fuller to mainly work underneath for his three receptions, totaling 31 scoreless yards. Based on his final-month usage, we can count on Fuller to play 85-100% of Houston’s offensive snaps and draw 5-8 targets. We can not count on Osweiler completing those targets or 4.32 speedster Fuller getting many chances deep. Osweiler has converted just two passes thrown 20-plus yards downfield over his last four games, a span of 105 dropbacks. Fuller was pulled off punt returns for Tyler Ervin in Week 16 and is no longer getting special teams touches. … Keeping only three receivers active (Hopkins, Fuller, Keith Mumphery) in last week’s win over the Raiders, the Texans continued to incorporate two-tight end sets as Ryan Griffin (47%) often shared the field with C.J. Fiedorowicz (73%) and they ran almost the same number of pass routes (14, 15). Third receiver Mumphery played around 70% of the Texans’ snaps in Weeks 16-17 but drew only 5 targets to Griffin’s 8 and Fiedorowicz’s 11. In Week 3 against the Pats, it was Griffin (8-52-0) who popped up for a high-volume game, drawing a team-high 10 targets with six of them coming after Houston fell behind 20-0. It’s of course not crazy to think a similar script could play out here. Griffin doesn’t play as much, but he had just as many games above 50 yards (3) as Fiedorowicz this season. The 2016 Patriots ranked 20th in catches (75) and 24th in yards (725) allowed to tight ends.
Score Prediction: Patriots 27, Texans 13