Rams vs. Cowboys: Showdown Strategy, Target Projections, Betting Trends

The Divisional Round matchup between the Cowboys and the Rams is truly the reason Showdown slates exist. How could you possibly attempt to watch a game between arguably the two best running backs in football and not somehow want to get a piece of the action in a fantasy capacity? To dream the impossible season-long dream of owning both Ezekiel Elliott ($11,400) and Todd Gurley ($11,200) in the same game? To maybe get back on the saddle after a Gurley injury de-railed your redraft championship aspirations? Well, if that sounds like something you might be interested in, I think I can help you out.

In this article, I will outline the potential game script for the two possible outcomes of this matchup (we’re like Donovan McNabb here — we don’t believe in ties). Based on these narratives, I’ll highlight the players who would stand to benefit from the events of the night going down in such a manner. After the hypothetical exercise, I’ll crown a winner, name a Captain’s Pick, and give some locks for the slate.

So, let’s dive in.

Note: All salaries will be Flex prices unless noted as Captain’s Pick prices.


ADAM LEVITAN’S TARGET PROJECTION

Gerald Everett, $3,600 Captain’s Pick, $2,400 Flex — The Rams have gone to more two-TE sets lately as they continue to compensate for the loss of Cooper Kupp. That’s led to Everett running a route on 100 of Jared Goff’s past 158 drop backs. Everett, a talented 2017 second-round pick, has averaged 5.2 targets per game over his past four.

Projection — 5 Targets


FIVE BETTING TRENDS

— The Cowboys have won each of their past four games as underdogs vs. NFC opponents.

— The Rams have lost each of their past three games as home favorites vs. NFC East opponents.

— The underdogs have covered the spread in each of the Cowboys’ past four postseason games.

— The Rams have failed to cover the spread in seven of their past eight night games vs. NFC opponents.

— Ten of the Cowboys’ last 12 road games have gone under the total points line.

Stats provided by DraftKings Sportsbook


SHOWDOWN STRATEGY

If the Rams Win…

The biggest decision you’ll be making on this slate is in regard to Gurley. While I honestly believe that the NFL’s leader in total touchdowns (21) should be at — or near — 100 percent health after three weeks of rest, this is still a running back that the public hasn’t seen play since all the way back in Week 15. That’s not even half the debate, either. More worrisome is Gurley’s plummeting usage across the second half of the season. After averaging 21.5 carries over the year’s first six games, Gurley attempted just 15.5 rushes per contest from Week 7 on. Sure, some of this corollated with negative scripts and the 24-year-old remained hyper-involved in the team’s passing attack, but Gurley’s touch load does pale in direct comparison to that of Elliott. Zeke also owns the better matchup. The Cowboys are stout against the run. Extremely stout. By adjusted line yards, Dallas finished the regular season as the third-best unit in football; all this before shutting down Seattle’s vaunted ground game last weekend. Gurley faced three other teams in 2018 that had allowed fewer than 4.0 adjusted line yards per carry: New Orleans, Philadelphia and Chicago. On those three occasions, Gurley managed a combined 144 yards on 36 carries. The Cowboys have been worse away from home and Los Angeles’ high projected team total gives Gurley an exceedingly high floor, yet I don’t think I trust the All-Pro enough to make him my Captain’s Pick.

Jared Goff ($9,200) is also a little more difficult to trust than he was in mid-October. Bookended by four-touchdown performances against Kansas City and San Francisco; Goff had a four-game run where he averaged just 11.9 DKFP. Still, to take Goff lightly would be to make a mistake. While Gurley is often touted as the main beneficiary of the Rams leading the league in red zone possessions per contest (5.0), Goff has carved out an equally volume-based success rate. In fact, only three QBs can claim to have attempted over 100 passes inside their opponent’s 20-yard line this season: Andrew Luck, Patrick Mahomes and Goff. The third-year pivot actually leads all players with 50 thrown passes within the 10-yard line, as well.

Despite this amount of aerial action near the goal line, Los Angeles — somewhat surprisingly — doesn’t have a single player with 20-plus red zone targets on their roster. Instead, they have six different receiving options with double-digit opportunities, with Gurley leading the way at 19. This is really the only facet of the Rams’ offense that isn’t streamlined. They use the same three receivers on 99 percent of their offensive snaps; Gurley rarely leaves the field; and Robert Woods ($8,200) is contractually obligated to catch at least five passes per game. This is how things are done in Hollywood. So, finding the edge in who might be getting targeted in high-leverage situations is one of the few openings we have to find value. I’m looking at two names: Josh Reynolds ($6,200) and Gerald Everett ($2,400). Reynolds has a team-high 11 red zone targets since Los Angeles’ shootout victory over the Chiefs, two more chances than Gurley and Brandin Cooks ($7,800) have seen combined. Conversely, Everett has only six targets to his name in this same span; however, he out-snapped Tyler Higbee ($1,000) 166-to-162 over the last four weeks of the season, while getting 21 overall targets in that time frame. This includes a season-high 75.0 percent offensive snap share in Week 16 versus the Cardinals, a game where the Rams threw on only 38.8 percent of plays. That’s serious progress and role expansion for the sophomore.

However, if you do want to pay up for either Woods or Cooks to stack with Goff, the former is pretty clearly your guy. Not only did Woods average 2.12 yards per route run this season, but, by working primarily out of the slot, he won’t see any of Byron Jones. Yes, Jones’ numbers slipped a little by year’s end, yet the corner still allowed a paltry 0.22 fantasy points per route covered after 17 weeks – one of the best marks in all of football.


If the Cowboys Win…

Despite being the most expensive player on the slate, it’s difficult to foresee a circumstance where you can avoid using Elliott. After being one of only two players to surpass 2,000 scrimmage yards in the regular season — a feat for which he needed only 15 games — Elliott racked up another 169 yards on 30 touches last week in Dallas’ 24-22 Wild Card victory against Seattle. If that seems like an aberration, I can assure you – it wasn’t. You have to go all the way back to Week 7 to find a contest where Elliott didn’t see at least 20 touches in a game, something that only actually happened three times in 2018. It’s equally difficult to see the Cowboys constructing a game plan that doesn’t revolve around their star RB, as well. Among all NFC teams, the only squad to surrender more yards per carry to opposing backfields this season than the Rams at 4.91 yards per carry, was the lowly Cardinals. Elliott, who, much like Gurley, will not be scripted out of games, is not someone I don’t fear for in a road underdog spot this Saturday.

Amari Cooper ($9,000), the other half of Dallas’ two-headed skill position monster, is a player with which I have some concerns. Let’s get the narrative aspect of this out of the way right off the top. Cooper has struggled immensely with both Aqib Talib and Marcus Peters in their past AFC West lives. Cooper came into this season having not registered a touchdown in the direct coverage of either and certainly didn’t show much better in a one-reception performance back in Week 1. Yes, that was a Derek Carr-led offensive, one not playing nearly to the level of the Cowboys the past few weeks, but it is undeniable that Cooper has had his struggles in these specific matchups. However, even putting their history with Cooper to the side, Los Angeles is just simply a better pass defense when both Peters and Talib are healthy. Across the eight games that the pair were both active in 2018, opposing wideouts had the lowest success rate in football according to the data at Sharp Football Stats; while receivers averaged an awful 6.7 yards per target. The duo also created a pretty obvious funnel effect toward tight ends. With only 52 percent of opponent passes intended for WRs – the third-lowest rate in the league during this span – it was TEs reaping the rewards. Tight ends complied 66 targets across these eight specific weeks, a figure that ranks as the top mark in the NFC. They also gained a more than respectable 8.9 yards per attempt.

Knowing all this, Blake Jarwin ($4,200) should be a pretty easy selection as a value option if he’s able to play through an ankle ailment. If he’s unable to suit up, I’d also be more than willing to give Dalton Schultz ($200) a go at his minimum price point. I mean, he’d have to do little more than catch a pass to exceed 5x value. The Rams’ elite corner play augments the viability of Michael Gallup ($5,400), too. Especially considering the rookie’s already low floor. Really, I think the only Dallas WR that I might want a piece of is Tavon Austin ($1,800), yet that’s only if Cole Beasley ($4,800) is ruled out pregame. If Beasley’s not, Austin goes back on the scrap heap, while the amateur rapper’s risk of re-injury keeps him from being in my lineups.

Finally, when it comes to Dak Prescott ($8,600), the pivot does feel like a bit of a steal at under $9K. As mentioned in this space last week – prior to Prescott running in the game-winning score – Dallas’ QB always has the ability to reach huge DKFP outputs with his inclination to scamper as often as he does in the red zone. Prescott is QB4 in standard formats since the Cowboys traded for Cooper, averaging 0.5 fantasy points per drop back. Though his numbers have not been nearly as pretty away from home, as a massive road underdog, game-script should be in Prescott favor on Saturday. I mean, he did attempt 32.8 passes in Dallas’ losses during the course of the regular season.


THE OUTCOME

With both tight ends presenting such opportunity to save salary, not to mention Prescott and Reynolds seeming underpriced, I think there are more than enough avenues to make Elliott ($17,100 CP) your Captain’s Pick. Heck, there are ways to pay up for Elliott and Gurley and still find four more players you won’t hate to fill out the remainder of your lineup. While I favor Elliott over Gurley with a high degree of certainty, each will be out on the field for close to 100 percent of their team’s offensive snaps and both will be first in line for touchdowns.

Final Score: Los Angeles 27, Dallas 17


I am a promoter at DraftKings and am also an avid fan and user (my username is theglt13) and may sometimes play on my personal account in the games that I offer advice on. Although I have expressed my personal view on the games and strategies above, they do not necessarily reflect the view(s) of DraftKings and I may also deploy different players and strategies than what I recommend above. I am not an employee of DraftKings and do not have access to any non-public information.