In each of the last two weeks, the most popular plays have failed. In Week 11 it was Charcandrick West, Devonta Freeman and Adrian Peterson killing lineups. Last week it was DeAndre Hopkins, Julio Jones and T.J. Yeldon coming up short. This will likely result in more owners than usual looking to get off the “easy” plays. I’m not going to overthink spots like David Johnson, Scott Chandler, Cam Newton etc. on this massive 15-game slate.

The point of this column is to use the news, snap count, usage and trends to both be a little contrarian and avoid whiffs.


1. DeVante Parker’s chance at starter’s snaps

Rishard Matthews fractured his ribs three snaps into last week’s game against the Jets. After that, Parker got 61-of-75 snaps compared to 54 for Kenny Stills and 19 for Greg Jennings. So with Matthews out this week, Parker is preparing for his first career start – the beginning of his NFL career was destroyed by a foot injury.

Remember that Parker is a 6’3/209 specimen who ran a 4.45 with a 36 ½-inch vertical. He was the No. 14 overall pick for a reason and with the Dolphins’ season circling the drain, it’s time to free Parker. It’s a perfect time, as he has the weather and matchup on his side. Although the Ravens have improved defensively since their bye, they are still a unit to attack through the air. They are No. 13 in run-defense DVOA vs. No. 26 in pass-defense DVOA. Parker’s $3300 tag is criminally low for someone with his talent, opportunity and matchup this week.

2. Alshon Jeffery’s return to health

Alshon has been battling injury for literally the entire season. He was questionable for Week 1 due to a calf injury, pulled his hamstring in that game and then sat out until Week 6. Alshon’s return was short-lived as he tweaked a groin and then hurt his shoulder. But now Jeffery is finally healthy as he’s not even on the injury report coming off a 10-day layoff. Note that in the five games Alshon has played the majority of, he’s seen at last 11 targets in each. Also note that the 49ers give up 6.9 yards per play on the road, worst in the NFL. Jeffery’s usage and ability are elite, and the matchup is also pristine. Yet he’s priced far below the top-tier of Julio Jones, Odell Beckham, DeAndre Hopkins and Antonio Brown.


1. Julio Jones against the Bucs secondary

Odell Beckham is a great bet to torch the Jets’ Darrelle Revis-less secondary. But we shouldn’t ignore Julio. Given that he was held to 5-56-0 on just seven targets by Xavier Rhodes and the Vikings last week, Jones will likely go underowned relative to his appeal in this spot. The Bucs have quietly been dominant against the run, surrendering just 3.47 YPC (third in NFL) and earning the No. 2 spot in Football Outsiders’ run-defense DVOA. So even with Devonta Freeman (concussion) back, this is a Julio spot.

Expect savvy OC Kyle Shanahan to correct last week’s criminally low usage and force-feed his best player the rock 12-15 times. This is a must-win game for the Falcons, who have gone from 2.5-point dogs to 1-point favorites and seen their team total rise from 21.5 to 23.5 already this week. As noted by Evan Silva, Jones’ three lines against Lovie Smith’s Bucs defenses have been 12-162-1, 9-161-2 and 8-119-0.


1. Carson Palmer and Larry Fitzgerald or John Brown at Rams

I’d project David Johnson’s tournament ownership somewhere in the 45-55 percent range. It’s understandable, as this is an athletic freak who is tremendous in the pass game and projects for 15-20 touches at $3400. The Cardinals also see Johnson as a better red-zone runner than #DraftTwitter does – his four rushing TDs have come from 13, 4, 2 and 1-yard out. I absolutely love the play.

That said, finding leverage plays against massively owned players is always going to yield a theoretical profit. In the rare case Johnson fails, we need to think about how we can capitalize in large-field/top-heavy tournaments. The best way to do this is with Carson Palmer, who will be grossly underowned this week. He’s coming off a poor game against the 49ers, is priced similarly to chalk Cam Newton/Ben Roethlisberger and everyone is on Johnson. All these factors ignore that this is a great spot for Palmer, as it’s indoors against a crumbling Rams defense that has been lit for 790 yards and seven TDs on a 69.4 completion percentage by Andy Dalton, Joe Flacco and Jay Cutler the last three weeks. Carson gets a boost with explosive John Brown (hamstring) finally back to health.


1. Russell Wilson and Doug Baldwin at Minnesota

The combo that wins all the money last week is usually a bad play the next week. That’s especially true in this case, as Wilson goes from a home game against the Steelers to a road game against the Vikings. The difference in spot is massive: Pittsburgh’s strong run defense funnels action toward their inept secondary, while Minnesota plays the pass better than the run. The Steelers are an offensive juggernaut that rank 15th in pace while the ball-control Vikings rank 29th. Basically, Wilson couldn’t afford to be a game manager last week. This week, however, projects as a defensive battle with one of the lowest totals (42) on the board. It’s a really bad time to chase Wilson’s hot streak.


(No particular order)

QB: Cam Newton, Ben Roethlisberger, Jay Cutler
RB: David Johnson, C.J. Anderson, DeAngelo Williams, Shaun Draughn, Adrian Peterson
WR: Julio Jones, Odell Beckham, Antonio Brown, Alshon Jeffery, Danny Amendola, Jarvis Landry, Jeremy Maclin, Larry Fitzgerald, Brandon Marshall
TE: Scott Chandler, Greg Olsen, Travis Kelce, Jordan Reed
D: Patriots, Bears, Steelers, Redskins, Cardinals