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Matt Savoca’s Week 8 Daily Fantasy Football Matchups Breakdown Column

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Matt Savoca's game-by-game breakdowns of the Week 8 daily fantasy football slate for NFL DFS lineups on DraftKings + FanDuel + Yahoo.

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Daily Fantasy Football Matchups: Pittsburgh Steelers (21.5) at Baltimore Ravens (26.5)

Pittsburgh Passing Game

The Steelers escaped week 7 with a win, but just barely, as they managed to blow a 24-7 lead in the second half to the Titans but were spared by a missed game-tying field goal. For quarterback Ben Roethlisberger, it was his worst performance of 2020, as he needed 49 dropbacks to reach a paltry 268 passing yards, and his 5.32 air yards per attempt ranked among the worst in the entire league. His three interceptions, unsurprisingly, were also season worst. At the very least, his two touchdown passes helped buoy what otherwise was a middling performance by the veteran signal-caller. Even with the painful performance in week 7, Roethlisberger can still be viewed as a relatively reliable quarterback week to week, as he’s already produced five top-20 fantasy finishes at the quarterback position this year (even the advanced metrics, such as expected points added, were much kinder to Roethlisberger’s week 7 performance). But against the Ravens imposing defense fresh off of their bye week and armed with new defensive weapon Yannick Ngakoue, it’s safe to say Roethlisberger’s expectations need to be diminished. It’s certainly true that both these teams have the offensive firepower to score more than 48 combined points (the current Vegas total), but the most likely game scenario involves both offenses being heavily dictated by both teams’ extraordinarily defensive units. Worse for fantasy gamers, Roethlisberger still has a salary that suggests his success in this matchup is a foregone conclusion, and it’s not. Roethlisberger’s projection on Awesemo.com places him more than 10 spots lower than his QB8 salary this weekend.

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Interestingly enough, the salary dilemma is nowhere to be found with the Steelers’ talented trio of wideouts, who are all essentially in the same range. Diontae Johnson, who caught two touchdowns last weekend but is banged up with what he’s calling an “ankle bruise,” has the highest salary of the three. He’s the 24th-highest-salary wideout on the slate, which seems like an extremely enticing salary for a player who has received 10, 13 and 15 targets in games in which he’s played 75% of snaps or more. Baltimore ranks right around league average in schedule-adjusted fantasy points allowed to wide receivers and 13th in team coverage grade, which is better than average but not enough to completely fade Johnson. Assuming he plays, he has the talent to command a dozen targets and add 100 receiving yards in any game. The Awesemo projections are bullish on Johnson at his relatively reduced salary. Behind him, DraftKings somewhat surprisingly chose to make JuJu Smith-Schuster the middle-salary receiver, likely due to his 14-target game against the Titans, but that leaves rookie standout Chase Claypool as the lowest-salary option of the trio (though he’s not far behind as the 27th-highest-salary wideout on the main slate). With PFF believing that Smith-Schuster will see a lot of stud cornerback Marlon Humphrey in the slot and Jimmy Smith likely tending to Johnson on the outside, that leaves Claypool as a clear leverage play against the other two Steeler speedsters. Awesemo’s projections have Claypool as a much better value than Smith-Schuster, who has only commanded more than 20% of the Steelers’ targets one time this season.

Fantasy gamers could also take a look at Eric Ebron, who has commanded seven, six, four and eight targets over his last four games and has had a receiving yardage total lower than 43 only once since week 2. Ebron leads the team in red zone targets. In fact, 22% of his passes have come in the red zone or in the end zone, but he hasn’t scored since the third week of the season. That’s a solid enough signal that the Steelers are aiming to get Ebron involved at the goal line, and as the 17th-highest-salary tight end on the slate, Ebron offers fantasy gamers a high degree of optionality elsewhere in their lineup while still maintaining a solid target floor. Needless to say, Awesemo’s projections for Ebron are significantly better than his salary-based expectations.


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Pittsburgh Rushing Game

The steady drumbeat of the backfield is James Conner, who hasn’t seen less than 27% of the team’s opportunities since week 1, when he exited early with an ankle injury. Though he didn’t find the end zone, thanks to a Benny Snell touchdown vulture, Conner totaled 111 yards from scrimmage (his fourth 100-yard day in his last five outings) on a season-high 24 touches. The lost goal line look is concerning, but ultimately the backfield is Conner’s and Conner’s only. He had six times the touches than the rest of the backfield combined, for goodness’ sake. He’s not at a discounted salary this week necessarily as the eighth-highest-salary running back on the slate, but with many fantasy gamers perceiving this as a stay-away matchup, Conner presents intriguing upside as a player with slate-breaking usage and ability outside the top 10 projected ownership. Conner should absolutely be considered in daily fantasy football lineups this weekend, especially in tournaments, despite the tough matchup.

Baltimore Passing Game

The Ravens are 5-1 and emerge from their bye week in a position to take the lead in the AFC North with a victory over their bitter rivals. In a macro sense, the Ravens’ offense is the same one that tore defenses to shreds a season ago, but this year, while it hasn’t necessarily affected the Ravens record (their one loss was to the world-champion Chiefs), the fact that the offense ranks 21st in expected points per drive and 20th in expected points added per play is alarming, particularly because the Ravens prefer such a run-heavy approach. That makes the Ravens more built for close games than for shootouts, and that is at least a partial contributor to the low Vegas total despite bookmakers’ understanding of these two offenses. Simply, the Ravens do not like to pass if they don’t have to. They’d prefer to impose their will on the ground.

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2019 MVP Lamar Jackson is in the midst of another fine season, though he hasn’t been quite at the All-Pro level we saw a year ago. Jackson still has strong underlying efficiency metrics, ranking 10th in total QBR and seventh in fantasy points per dropback on the fourth-highest air yards per attempt in the league (9.0). The issue here for fantasy gamers, of course, is volume, as Jackson has thrown between 21 and 28 passes in all but one game this season. Only twice has he had greater than a 75% completion percentage. That means there’s a realistic reception floor of 15 targets to be distributed amongst all of Jackson’s weapons (which will soon include Dez Bryant) each game. That’s a microscopic amount of volume, meaning that team-based metrics (like true weighted opportunity share) should be taken with a grain of salt when it comes to the Ravens. With the volume so limited, efficiency is required by Ravens skill players in order to be consistently productive in fantasy football. And betting on efficiency in a game as high-variance as football is always a tough undertaking.

When Jackson is throwing, it’s mostly to Marquise Brown, who saw a team-high six targets in week 6 (in fact, no other Raven even saw five looks), making Brown one of the most consistently used players in the NFL thus far. Brown has never seen fewer than six targets in a contest this season and has target totals of eight and 10 under his belt already. With an average depth of target north of 15, Brown seems primed for more than a few monster fantasy totals in the second half of the season, though it may have to wait at least one more game, as the Steelers rank well above league average in yards allowed per pass attempt and in points allowed per play and top 10 in PFF’s coverage grade. Awesemo’s projections are cool on Brown this week, calling his WR16 salary a bit steep compared to his projection based expectation. But 1B option Mark Andrews (who continues to dominate all other Baltimore passing weapons in red zone and end zone targets) also has a salary that makes fitting him into daily fantasy football lineups quite difficult as the third-highest-salary tight end on the slate. Awesemo’s projections aren’t particularly keen on any Baltimore receiving weapon this weekend.

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Baltimore Rushing Game

While it’s important to remember that any fluctuations in usage for Ravens’ running backs only pertains to 60%-80% of the team’s actual rushes (since Jackson takes the rest for himself), it’s in fantasy gamers’ best interest to keep an eye on the practice reports for Mark Ingram this week. As of mid-week Ingram still isn’t practicing, which indicates it could be another week of Gus Edwards, who handled 41% of the team’s rushes in the Ravens’ last contest, and the rookie J.K. Dobbins, who saw 25% of the team’s rushes for the first time since week 1. If Ingram sits, the most likely scenario is that Edwards plays the primary role, with Dobbins spelling him and Justice Hill possibly mixing in for a few touches here and there. The Steelers are the second-best defense in adjusted line yards and have the highest rate of rushes that end behind the line of scrimmage. They’re absolutely ferocious on defense, but their one weakness is tackling in the open field. If Baltimore can orchestrate some open space in the option game with Jackson and the backs, it could be a sneakily successful day rushing for the Ravens. That’s not necessarily the most likely scenario, but the slate-winning upside absolutely remains for Jackson, Edwards and even Dobbins in this unique offense designed to showcase its rushing prowess.

Prediction: Ravens 28, Steelers 27

Looking for more NFL DFS picks and daily fantasy football matchups content? We have loads of articles, data, and more on the Awesemo NFL home page. Just click HERE.

Return to the main Week 8 Matchups Breakdown page.

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A middling athlete who was offered his first sports analytics position at age 14, I've been working on NFL and fantasy football data science since 2017. With a particular passion for data visualization and dashboard building, I love to make data accessible by using graphs and charts to communicate ideas that are difficult to explain with words alone. You can contact me by e-mailing [email protected]

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