This week reminds me of Week 14 in some ways. Julio Jones has an impossible matchup, Odell Beckham is suspended, DeAndre Hopkins has quarterback concerns and Adrian Peterson is banged up. We’re going to have to look to the mid-range for guys with ceilings far above their salaries suggest. The good news is there a bunch of guys that meet that criteria this week.

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. Martavis Bryant against the Ravens’ funnel defense

Martavis is a special talent playing 70-80 percent of the snaps in the league’s best passing offense. That alone is enough to interest me. Now let’s throw in his voluminous role, one that has expanded from mere deep shots to now include screens/hitches. Bryant is averaging 9.5 targets per game, 14th-best in the league. That includes 1.56 red-zone targets per game, fourth-best in the league and more than Antonio Brown’s 1.36. Lastly, consider a matchup with a Ravens defense that ranks ninth in run defense DVOA vs. 29th in pass defense DVOA. The way to light up this team is by testing outside corners Shareece Wright (PFF’s No. 66 coverage CB) and Jimmy Smith (No. 91). Bryant is at least a $7000 player in this spot, yet he’s priced at $5600.


1. The Patriots projected lack of interest in a run game

When the Patriots faced the Jets’ No. 1 DVOA in Week 7, Tom Brady dropped back 60 times and running backs combined for six carries. The last three times the Pats have faced the Jets, Brady has attempted 126 passes and running backs have run it 36 times. We’ve seen these opponent-specific gameplans before from Bill Belichick, as Brady dropped back 52 times and running backs combined for seven carries against the Ravens in last year’s Divisional Round playoff game.

So he benefits from this style of play? Tom Brady and Rob Gronkowski are obvious answers. A sneakier answer is James White, who has taken over the Dion Lewis role and impressed in it. White has caught 21 balls over the last two weeks, drawing praise from Belichick, Josh McDaniels and Tom Brady for his execution and ability. Note that White also had a 70-yard catch called back last week by a bad offensive pass interference call.

2. Doug Martin taking a stroll down Narrative Street

The 6-8 Bucs are out of the playoff chase. Yet they still have something to play for – just ask them.

“I think it’s important to our offensive line to help Doug Martin be the leading rusher in the league,” coach Lovie Smith said this week. “It’s important. It’s always about team goals at the end, but there’s some individual things going on to be able to remember this season by.”

It’s somewhat rare that an NFL team will explicitly say they’re actively pursuing stats. But it’s a clear boost to Martin’s Week 16 projection in a home game against a Bears run defense that ranks dead last in DVOA. There’s always a low floor with Martin because he’s a two-down back who will lose snaps to Charles Sims in any passing situation. But if the Bucs can get a lead here, he’s set up to go off.


1. DeAngelo Williams and Steelers D as leverage against Ben Roethlisberger and Antonio Brown

One of the best ways to attack large-field GPPs is with pivots. We simply identify who will be the most popular players and then think about who will benefit if they fail. This week, I expect Ben Roethlisberger and Antonio Brown to be the highest-owned guys on the slate. I don’t think the Ravens defense can stop them, but football stats are influenced by more than individual matchups.

The way Ben/AB could fail to meet expectations is if the Steelers score a defensive touchdown or if there are a bunch of plays that end inside the 5-yard line. In those cases, it would likely be Williams racking up the touchdowns. The Steelers would also not need to keep their foot on the gas in the pass game, much like two weeks ago at Cincy. DeAngelo continues to be an absolute workhorse, playing more than 90 percent of the snaps weekly and operating as both the goal-line back and a screen back.


1. Allen Robinson against the Saints

Everyone wants to use flow-chart research at wideout. Step A: Find out who is playing the Saints. Step B: Roster their No. 1 receiver. This has not worked since defensive coordinator Rob Ryan was fired four games ago. They’ve faced three “No. 1” WRs since then, holding Calvin Johnson to 1-19-0, Mike Evans to 3-39-0 and DeAndre Hopkins to 5-36-0. Delvin Breaux continues to play at a truly elite level on one side and new DC Dennis Allen is giving Brandon Browner the help he needs over the top on the other.

Meanwhile, Allen Robinson’s target count has plummeted since the Jags got Julius Thomas, Allen Hurns and Marqise Lee fully healthy. Over the last two weeks, A-Rob has totaled nine targets. Rather than go at the Saints with expensive outside receivers, I’d prefer to attack them with tight ends, running backs and slot receivers. That’s Julius Thomas, Denard Robinson and Allen Hurns.


(No particular order)

QB: Ben Roethlisberger, Blake Bortles, Cam Newton, Tom Brady
RB: David Johnson, Denard Robinson, Karlos Williams, Doug Martin
WR: Antonio Brown, Martavis Bryant, Mike Evans, Jarvis Landry, Rueben Randle, Golden Tate, Brandin Cooks, Jeremy Maclin
TE: Julius Thomas, Will Tye, Greg Olsen, Zach Miller (if Alshon Jeffery is ruled out), Ben Watson
D: Chiefs, Panthers, Steelers, Texans, Lions, Vikings, Titans