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The NFL Fantasy Football Matchups Column with Adam Pfeifer: Week 12 Game Breakdowns (FREE)

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It really is a process. After what I thought was a strong first half of the NFL DFS season, the last few weeks have kicked my behind. Of course, no one in this industry is going to get everything right all of the time. It honestly wouldn’t even be fun, though it would eliminate days like Sunday. Still, we do what we can with the data we have and try to apply it to every game. Writing this article every week has honestly made me a better fantasy player, a better analyst and a better man. OK, the last part was absolutely false but it felt like it needed to be said, no?

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On to Week 12.

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NFL DFS Early Slate

Denver Broncos @ Buffalo Bills | Pittsburgh Steelers @ Cincinnati Bengals | Miami Dolphins @ Cleveland Browns | New York Giants @ Chicago Bears | New Orleans Saints @ Carolina Panthers | Tampa Bay Buccaneers @ Atlanta Falcons | Detroit Lions @ Washington Redskins | Oakland Raiders @ New York Jets | Seattle Seahawks @ Phliadelphia Eagles

NFL DFS Late Slate

Jacksonville Jaguars @ Tennessee Titans | Dallas Cowboys @ New England Patriots

Week 12 byes: Arizona, Kansas City, Los Angeles Chargers, Minnesota


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Denver Broncos @ Buffalo Bills

Total: 36.5

Line: BUF -5

Broncos passing game

Brandon Allen has been better than expected since taking over for the injured Joe Flacco. In two starts, the former Razorback has completed around 52 percent of his passes while tossing three touchdowns to just one interception. He almost led the Broncos to an upset win over the Vikings in Minnesota last week but the team blew a huge lead. Allen has been far less conservative than Flacco, sporting an average depth of target of 9.8 in his two starts, a top-10 mark in the NFL during that stretch.

Meanwhile, 14 percent of his pass attempts have traveled 20 yards or more and he’s been far more athletic in the pocket, whereas Flacco couldn’t avoid any type of pass rush. Still, I don’t think it would be wise to trust Allen in his third start in Buffalo against one of the best pass defenses in the NFL. The Bills are allowing the third-fewest adjusted yards per attempt (4.9), second-lowest passing touchdown rate (2.0%) and third-lowest aDOT (7.0) in the league, while also allowing the third-fewest points per drive.

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Although he failed to score, Courtland Sutton tore apart the Vikings secondary last week to the tune of 113 yards on five catches. Despite very poor quarterback play, Sutton has been a model of consistency during his sophomore season, recording at least 70 yards or five receptions in nearly every game. Sutton has also seen at least seven targets in all but one game this year and is now ninth in the NFL with 805 receiving yards. He continues to make big plays, ranking fourth among all receivers in yards per target (11.8), 15th in yards per reception (16.4), while handling 39 percent of Denver’s air yards, tied for the fifth-highest rate in the league.

Regardless of who is under center, Sutton has proven to be a viable WR2 each week, though he will be lowered a bit this weekend. Tre’Davious White, who has shadowed the opposition’s top receiver in two of the last three weeks, limiting them to six catches for 54 yards and zero touchdowns on 14 targets. He remains one of the three best cornerbacks in football and has allowed 35 catches on 58 targets for zero touchdowns and a 60.8 passer rating in coverage this year while picking off three passes. I’m not benching Sutton unless I have great options at receiver but I am definitely tempering expectations for NFL DFS.

After no receiver could take advantage of the increase in playing time due to the Emmanuel Sanders trade, Tim Patrick came off injured reserve last week and was plenty involved. Patrick played 73 percent of the snaps in his first real action of the season, while hauling in four of eight targets for 77 yards. He ran a route on 35 of Allen’s 42 dropbacks last week and saw a pair of end zone targets, as well as four red zone targets, the third-most from Week 11. Don’t forget that Patrick made some noise down the stretch last season, catching 19 of 30 looks for 242 yards over the final four games of the year when Sanders was out with his Achilles injury.

He has immediately filled in as the WR2 in Denver and is minimum price on DraftKings, making me extremely interested. Assuming White shadows Sutton, Patrick will line up against either Levi Wallace or Taron Johnson, who definitely aren’t cupcake matchups but they aren’t brutal, either. And because opposing offenses rarely go at White on the left side, Patrick should see a fair amount of looks this week and at minimum salary, he won’t have to do much to pay off in NFL DFS.

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Since Sanders was traded to the 49ers, rookie tight end Noah Fant leads his position with a 26 percent market share. During that same span, he’s fourth in targets (23) and third in targets per game (7.7), while being targeted on 13.3 percent of his snaps, a top-10 rate at the position. The Broncos are even giving their athletic tight end occasional carries to see what he can do with the ball in his hands. Given the uptick in playing time and volume (and how bad tight end is), Fant is now a borderline top-12 NFL DFS play, despite the awful matchup with the Bills, who are allowing the fewest fantasy points per game to opposing tight ends. They do play a zone defense, however, so Fant could continue to get plenty of looks in the middle of the field.

Broncos running game

This Denver backfield has been a committee all season long but prior to last Sunday’s game, a report surfaced that the Broncos would lean on Phillip Lindsay more. And for the most part, it was true, as Lindsay played 64 percent of the snaps, while Royce Freeman was at 30 percent. He out-touched Freeman 18-9, though Royce still took away some short-yardage work. Still, Lindsay is clearly the preferred back of the two and is a solid RB2 option against the Bills, who still own one of the more vulnerable run defenses in the league.

They predictably swallowed up Kalen Ballage last week but he did find the end zone, and Buffalo is now allowing 1.1 rushing touchdowns per game this year, tied for the sixth-most in the league. 52.3 percent of all touchdowns surrendered by the Bills have come on the ground, which is the third-highest rate in the league through 11 weeks. Lindsay is a viable RB2 option and an intriguing play at his cheap price tag on DraftKings. Freeman, meanwhile, is just a flex option for NFL DFS.

Bills passing game

I know it was against the Dolphins but Josh Allen was incredible last week, passing for 256 yards and three touchdowns while adding 56 yards and an additional score on the ground. He has now scored at least two touchdowns in six consecutive games, the longest streak in the NFL. Meanwhile, no one in football has scored more touchdowns than Allen (12) since Week 7. He is now seventh in fantasy points per dropback (0.55) and, as you’d expect, his rushing has had a lot to do with it. Allen already has seven rushing scores on the season, while averaging 7.4 rushes and over 33 rushing yards per game.

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His 11 red zone carries are tied for the third-most among all signal callers, making him a borderline QB1 in any matchup, even a tough one like this week’s. The Broncos have been fantastic against the pass, minus the second half of last week, allowing the sixth-fewest passing touchdowns per game (1.0) and seventh-fewest yards per completion (9.7). Allen is still a fine seasonal streamer but someone I’ll have very little exposure to in NFL DFS.

John Brown is so damn good. After giving us a strong floor every single week, we finally saw a ceiling game from Brown, who hauled in nine of 14 targets for 137 yards and a pair of touchdowns against the Dolphins. Obviously, it extended his streak of 50 receiving yards to 10 games, a franchise record, while his 817 receiving yards are the most in a player’s first 10 games with Buffalo.

They are also the most in the entire AFC through 11 weeks of play, as he continues to make a huge difference for this offense. He has seen 26 percent of Buffalo’s targets this year and 28 percent of their receptions, both top-five rates among receivers. Smoke has also seen 40 percent of the Bills air yards, the third-highest rate in the league. Given his safe floor and target totals, Brown is tough to sit, though I’m sure Chris Harris Jr. will follow him around. Still, Harris got burnt for a long touchdown last week and Brown is still so involved.

Bills running game

Devin Singletary remained the lead back in Buffalo last week, logging 74 percent of the snaps and 16 touches. Frank Gore, meanwhile, played 26 percent of the snaps and touched the football 12 times. Over the last four weeks, Singletary has played 69 percent of the snaps, while Gore is at 31 percent. Meanwhile, he’s touched the ball 57 times during that span (14.3 per game), while Gore is under 10 touches per game. Despite the uptick in volume, Singletary has remained one of the most efficient running backs in the league, averaging 6.3 yards per touch, the fourth-best mark in football. He is also averaging 1.1 breakaway runs (carries of 15 yards) per game, while his 12.7 percent breakaway run rate paces all backs. Keep using him as an RB2 for NFL DFS.

Pittsburgh Steelers @ Cincinnati Bengals

Total: 39.5

Line: PIT -6.5

Steelers passing game

Mason Rudolph continues to struggle for Pittsburgh, coming off an ugly four-interception game on Thursday night against the Browns. He was then hit in the head with his own helmet, which was shocking to watch. Anyway, he heads to Cincinnati this week in a favorable matchup but his poor play still makes him tough to count on in NFL DFS. So far this season, Rudolph ranks 33rd in play-action completion rate (58.8%), 25th in deep ball completion rate (29.6%) and 19th in pressured completion rate (34.5%), while averaging just 0.40 fantasy points per dropback, the eighth-lowest mark in the NFL.

Sure, the matchup is great, facing a Bengals defense that is coughing up the third-most fantasy points per game to opposing quarterbacks this year (23.1), while sporting the league’s second-lowest pressure rate at 16.4 percent. That makes him worth a look in two-quarterback leagues but I won’t go to him in daily leagues, especially at an elevated $5,500 DraftKings price tag. Oh, and especially because his top two skill-players are banged up.

Speaking of, JuJu Smith-Schuster left last week’s game in the second quarter after suffering a vicious shot to the head. He has been diagnosed with a concussion, as well as a knee injury, that now appears to be minor. Smith-Schuster will have to clear the concussion protocol in order to suit up this week, though if he’s active, you likely won’t be thrilled to start him, even in a good spot. He is 61st in the league in fantasy points per pass route (0.39) and 46th in fantasy points per target (1.76), as he has really suffered from Rudolph’s poor play and Pittsburgh’s ultra-conservative offense.

He has been under 50 receiving yards in four of his last five games, while just 67.2 percent of Rudolph’s pass attempts this year have been deemed catchable, which ranks 33rd among all signal-callers with at least 50 passes. If Smith-Schuster somehow suits up, continue to use him as a WR3 with upside, especially this week. If there were a spot for Pittsburgh to get their passing game going, it could be here, as the Bengals are allowing a league-high 13.0 yards per completion this season to go along with a league-high 8.8 yards per attempt.

Meanwhile, Diontae Johnson also suffered a concussion during last week’s bloodbath, putting his status up in the air. If he and Smith-Schuster sit, that would leave James Washington as the clear WR1 in Pittsburgh. Washington still has plenty of big play ability, ranking 18th in the league in yards per reception (16.0), while the Bengals are coughing up the third-most passing plays of at least 20 yards in the NFL (47). If just one of those receivers is out, Washington makes for a high-upside, low-floor WR3 if you need to replace someone on bye this week.

Finally, tight end Vance McDonald has seen seven targets in each of his last three games, though the production hasn’t been great, posting yardage totals of 30, 11 and 33 during that span. He did score once and should be in line for another fair share of looks from Rudolph this week, especially with the Pittsburgh receivers being so banged up. Vance has already seen 27.5 percent of the Steelers red zone targets on the year, the eighth-highest mark among qualified tight ends. He should continue to get plenty of looks from all over the field. McDonald is a back-end TE1 in all NFL DFS formats.

Steelers running game

It seems like James Conner gets hurt every game. He returned from his shoulder injury last week, only to exit early after aggravating it. Conner played just 13 snaps and his status is up in the air for this week, as his shoulder isn’t worse than it was before but is clearly still an issue. If Conner is active, you likely have to insert him back into your lineup and pray he makes it through the game. And if he does, he should produce, facing a Cincinnati defense that is allowing the fifth-most fantasy points per game to opposing backfields. They have also surrendered the second-most rushing touchdowns (13), which puts Conner on the RB1 map if he’s active.

Of course, if he is out, Jaylen Samuels becomes an absolute smash play for NFL DFS. He’d be a top-12 running back in seasonal leagues and even at an elevated NFL DFS price tag, I’d still look to him. Over his last five games with Conner sidelined, Samuels is averaging right around 15.5 PPR points per game, as well as nearly six catches per contest. Samuels, a former tight end, is an outstanding pass-catcher and the Steelers will continue to heavily feature him in that role if he’s the starter, especially with their wide receivers so depleted at the moment.

Rudolph, meanwhile, is seventh in the league with 55 pass attempts behind the line of scrimmage, while over 22 percent of his attempts have been behind the line of scrimmage this season. And in Weeks 9 and 10 when Conner was out, Samuels ran 47 pass routes, the eighth-most among all running backs, while leading the position in targets during that span with 19. Given the circumstances, Samuels would have a floor of five catches if he’s the starting running back this week.

Bengals passing game

I’m good.

Trust me, I hate being lazy with any sort of analysis. But there is really no need to give Ryan Finley a look this week. He just averaged 3.7 yards per attempt against a Raiders defense that gives up a ton of big plays in the passing game and with the Bengals not even trying to win football games right now, Finley isn’t being asked to do much. The Steelers, meanwhile, have been playing top-seven defense since the addition of Minkah Fitzpatrick. They also rank second in the NFL in pressure rate at 30.3 percent. So, like I said, I’m good.

It is obvious that Tyler Boyd’s ceiling is capped in this offense, but my goodness. I didn’t expect a one-catch, zero-yard performance against Oakland. He is still 12th in the league with a solid 24 percent market share of targets and has still provided NFL DFS players with five catches for 50 yards in seven games this season, so as long as the Bengals are chasing points, the floor should be there. This is also a sneaky good matchup for him, as the Steelers, despite their improved defensive play, continue to struggle to defend the slot. According to Pro Football Focus, they are allowing 25.8 fantasy points per game to the slot, the second-most in the NFL this year.

He’ll line up against Mike Hilton, who is allowing nearly 0.60 fantasy points per coverage route this year, the most among all corners on the slate. And if Auden Tate can’t play, perhaps Boyd gets more red zone looks, as Tate has handled 15.6 percent of Cincinnati’s end zone looks, the ninth-highest rate in football.

Bengals running game

After a putrid start to the year, Joe Mixon appears to be gaining some momentum as of late. Over the last two games, Mixon has touched the ball 51 times for 254 yards and a touchdown. The uptick in production and usage has been great to see but he still plays in one of the worst offenses in football, running behind arguably the league’s worst run-blocking offensive line. 26 percent of all carries by the Bengals have been stuffed at or behind the line of scrimmage, tied for the second-worst mark in the league.

This matchup isn’t ideal, as the Steelers are allowing the fourth-fewest rushing touchdowns per game (0.5), while just 21.7 percent of all touchdowns surrendered by this defense have come on the ground, the fifth-lowest rate in the league. Meanwhile, their 3.7 yards per carry allowed are good for fifth-best, making Mixon still an RB2 for me.

Miami Dolphins @ Cleveland Browns

Total: 44.5

Line: CLE -10.5

Dolphins passing game

Ryan Fitzpatrick continues to sling it all over the yard and given the fact that Miami has zero running game to speak of and they are 10-point road dogs, I’d expect that to continue this week. That puts him on the map as nothing more than a volume-based cheap NFL DFS play. Despite their offensive struggles at times, the Browns defense has played pretty well this season and are coughing up the sixth-fewest completions per game (20.5). They are also allowing the sixth-fewest passing yards per game (216.8), despite missing their top two corners for multiple games.

Very, very, very quietly, DeVante Parker is the WR12 in NFL DFS since Week 6. During that span, he is also 12th in receptions (30), 13th in targets (43), 13th in receiving yards (403) and seventh in end zone targets (four). Parker is averaging just under nine targets per game over the last five weeks as the offense is running through him, especially with Preston Williams out for the season. Fitzpatrick will continue to force the ball to Parker, as the veteran signal caller is throwing into tight windows at the fourth-highest rate in the NFL this season (21.3 percent). Parker is inside the top 20 in terms of contested catch rate this season and should continue to see enough volume to warrant high-end WR3 consideration most weeks.

Mike Gesicki is coming off his second straight poor outing but he remains involved. He has seen six targets in each of his last three games and since Week 8, Gesicki is fourth among all tight ends in routes run (134). And among all tight ends with at least 20 targets, Gesicki is fourth in average depth of target (9.5). The athletic Gesicki is still lining up in the slot 74 percent of the time, which is the highest rate in the NFL, while the middle of the field has definitely been an area to attack the Browns this season.

Dolphins running game

Over the last two weeks, Kalen Ballage has 38 touches. He’s accumulated 62 yards and one touchdown. Ballage is easily the worst running back in the NFL but Miami continues to give him opportunities because he is the only one left in that backfield. During the last two weeks, Ballage is 10th in the NFL with 38 touches, averaging 19 per game. And in that same span, Ballage has played 79 percent of the snaps, which is the sixth-highest rate in football. No one is ever excited to play Ballage in NFL DFS but he’s basically a lock for 15 touches each week and the Browns can definitely be had on the ground. Cleveland is allowing 4.8 yards per carry this season, the fifth-worst mark in the league. Ballage is a low-end, volume-dependent flex play.

Browns passing game

Don’t look now but Baker Mayfield is starting to get it going from and NFL DFS perspective. He has scored at least 17 fantasy points in each of his last three games and while the Cleveland passing game has certainly been bad this year, it is worth pointing out that they have faced five or six of the best pass defenses in the NFL this year. The schedule opens up a bit for Mayfield and company, starting this week with a home matchup against the Dolphins. Miami is coughing up 2.51 points per drive this season, the second-most in football, as well as the third-most touchdowns per drive (.295).

The Dolphins are also allowing a 7.3 percent passing touchdown rate this year, the highest clip in the NFL, while pressuring opposing quarterbacks just 18.1 percent of the time, the fifth-lowest rate in football. They are also coughing up a healthy 2.3 passing touchdowns per game (fourth-most) and the Browns have done a better job of getting the ball out of Mayfield’s hands quicker. Since Week 9, he is fourth among all quarterbacks in pass attempts less than 2.5 seconds after the snap. And if you have watched Mayfield this year, you know he has really struggled when the first read hasn’t been there. Mayfield is an ideal quarterback streamer if he’s been dropped in your league and one of the best sub-$6,000 passers on DraftKings this week.

Could this finally be the Odell Beckham Jr. explosion game? It seemed like it was going to happen last week, as Beckham caught two balls for 49 yards on the opening drive, including a catch-and-run where he was brought down at the one-yard line. Beckham is still sixth among all receivers with a 26.9 percent target share, though he’s been far less efficient, as Mayfield has had accuracy issues this season. However, a home matchup with the Dolphins should vault Beckham back into top-12 NFL DFS receiver status, as Miami just allowed John Brown to torch them for 137 yards and a pair of scores last week. The Dolphins have allowed six 100-yard games on the year and are surrendering the third-highest average depth of target (9.7) in the league.

After a slow start, Jarvis Landry has come on as of late. He has now found the end zone in each of his past three games, while reaching the double-digit target mark in four of his last five games. And over his last four games, Landry is seventh in targets (27), fifth in receptions (19), first in touchdown catches (three) and 16th in fantasy points per snap (0.28). Landry is 12th in the league with a 25.4 percent target share, while handling over 31 percent of Cleveland’s targets from the red zone, while he continues to sport the highest yards per reception total of his career (14.2).

This will be the first time Landry will face the Dolphins since the team moved him to Cleveland back in 2017, so I’m sure there is some extra motivation for the veteran slot receiver. He is a high-end WR2 against his former team this weekend.

Browns running game

It has been interesting to watch the Browns use both of their backs over the last two weeks. Nick Chubb has remained the early-down back and now has at least 20 carries in five consecutive games, while ranking second in the NFL with 201 carries. But over the last two weeks, he’s played 77 percent of the snaps, while Kareem Hunt has logged 55 percent. Chubb continues to get the carries but Hunt is taking him off the field on passing downs. Over the last two weeks, Hunt is 10th among all running backs with 45 pass routes, while ranking third at the position in targets (16) during that span. Chubb has just two targets in that span, suddenly making him an afterthought as a pass-catcher.

The Browns have been playing the two backs together on 37 percent of the snaps, making it easier for Mayfield and the offense, but it certainly hurts Chubb’s upside a bit. Still, he makes for an awesome NFL DFS play as a 10-point favorite against a Dolphins defense allowing 6.1 yards per play (second-most) and 148.3 rushing yards per game (second-most), while opposing offenses are calling run 49.1 percent of the time against Miami, the second-highest rate in the league. And at least Hunt is stealing short-yardage work away, as Chubb leads the NFL with seven carries from inside the five-yard line since Hunt’s debut.

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