Kickoff: Sunday, December 18th, 1:00 PM ET
Location: Allegiant Stadium, Las Vegas
Betting Odds: NE -1.0, 44.5 total via PFF.com
Writer: Adam Sloate (@MrAdster99 on Twitter)
New England Patriots
Mac Jones (Sit/Fringe QB2)
The Patriots ran screen after screen after screen Monday night, hoping to alleviate some of the pressure that the Cardinals brought on Mac Jones. Part of the reasoning for that emphasis on the screen and short games for New England was that the Cardinals have been solid at pass rushing, while the Patriots have been mediocre at protecting their quarterbacks.
The Cardinals rank 6th in ESPN’s pass rush win rate, indicating that when they’re rushing the passer, they’re much better than average at “winning” their reps against opposing blockers in less than 2.5 seconds, which can lead to pressure on opposing QBs early in each play. Exacerbating the issue of QB protection is that the Patriots’ line isn’t especially good at pass-blocking, ranking 16th in pass-block win rate this season, so when the Cardinals brought pressure, offensive play caller Matt Patricia didn’t think that the line likely was able to counteract that pressure effectively.
Additionally, the Cardinals are among the heaviest blitzing teams in the NFL (6th-highest) and pressure opposing QBs at one of the highest rates in the NFL (9th) and continued that trend on Monday Night, meaning that not only were they pressuring Jones quickly, the Cardinals were also bringing that pressure often. Accordingly, the Patriots were happy to call screens, which required very little from Jones and ensured that the pressure was on the Patriots’ skill players, not him.
It looks like Mac will see a slight reprieve from the heavy blitzing this week, as the Raiders’ pass-rushing unit doesn’t blitz nearly as heavily as the Cardinals do, nor are they as effective as pass rushers as the Cardinals, ranking 11th in blitz percentage and 16th in pass rush win rate. They also force turnovers at one of the lowest rates in the league (3rd-worst) and are happy to let receivers rack up the yards after catch (4th-worst).
Hopefully, the decline in blitzing, as well as the weaker pass-rushing unit, convinces Patricia to let Jones air out the ball a little further downfield, so that his receivers can have the opportunity to make plays. Further helping the cause is that the Raiders are worse overall as a pass-defense unit, ranking dead last in FootballOutsiders’ pass defense DVOA. So, if Jones is able to look a little further downfield (as in, beyond the line of scrimmage), the Raiders don’t have a lot they can throw at the Patriots to counteract their skill players. The word “if” does a lot of heavy lifting, as even casual Patriots-watchers can tell you, which is why despite his favorable matchup, Mac is not a startable option in shallower leagues.
If you’re looking for a matchup advantage, Mac’s your guy. If you’re looking for dependability, look elsewhere. Chances are, if you’re looking at Mac as a potential starting option, then you don’t have much of a choice at the QB position, but there are worse options than the Raiders’ league-worst pass DVOA.
Rhamondre Stevenson (If Healthy, RB1), Damien Harris (If Healthy, Flex), Pierre Strong (Sit), Kevin Harris (Sit)
The good part about Mac throwing all those screens last week was that the running backs were able to tack on a couple of extra targets and receptions, which is especially helpful for PPR players. Pierre Strong had 2 receptions for 20 yards, and Rhamondre Stevenson had 2 receptions (2 yards) before leaving the game. Kevin Harris ultimately didn’t have any receptions, which is a little concerning for managers needing to replace Stevenson’s production, but it’s tough to draw meaningful conclusions from the ultra-tiny sample size of 2/3 of a game.
Note that Stevenson registered a DNP on Wednesday with a foot injury, so keep an eye on him for the weekend. A DNP isn’t promising, but he still has a few more days to get ready for the game before you think about picking up Harris x 2 or Strong.
By snap share, Kevin Harris has the advantage, as Harris saw the field for 49.2% of the Pats’ offensive snaps, while Pierre Strong was on for 32.2% of Pats snaps, per FantasyData. However, Strong had the production and target share advantage, as Strong was utilized in the receiving game — albeit lightly — and was able to rip off a 44-yard gain to double Harris’ rushing total. If you have to pick up or even start one, it seems like Strong is the better option, given that the Patriots were at least willing to let Strong pick up yards through the air, but I wouldn’t be comfortable starting either of them yet if Stevenson goes down.
The matchup is quite favorable to New England running backs, as Las Vegas has ceded the 5th-most fantasy points to running backs in PPR scoring formats this season. They’re 18th in defensive Rushing DVOA and 20th in Run Stop Win Rate, indicating that the Raiders can be run on by pretty much any team, even a team with as terrible a run blocking scheme as the Patriots (32nd in Run Block Win Rate, 24th in Rush DVOA, 23rd in rushing yards per attempt). Keep an eye on injury updates and practice notes to see who might be playing this week, but it may be worth sitting this backfield out if Stevenson is out, just to gather more certainty on fantasy production.
Wide Receivers/Tight Ends
Jakobi Meyers (If healthy, WR3), Hunter Henry (TE2), Nelson Agholor (Sit/FLEX)
Unfortunately for fantasy investors, there’s not a whole lot in this Patriots’ passing offense to get excited about, especially if the Patriots aren’t willing to push the ball past the line of scrimmage. This failure to turn targets into significant fantasy contributions is exemplified well by Nelson Agholor. Last week, Agholor was the team leader in targets, with 10, and he was only able to convert those targets into a gaudy 8.2 PPR fantasy points (5 receptions, 32 yards). He might be worth looking into in deep leagues, but only if Jakobi Meyers is out, since the Raiders are a friendlier fantasy matchup for wideouts than the Cardinals, but don’t expect a monster fantasy day out of him.
Hunter Henry was able to turn his 3 receptions into 70 yards, which instantly catapulted him into the top 3 fantasy TEs for the season, and that was mostly thanks to his big 39-yard reception. Henry has quietly started to pick up in fantasy production, totaling 43 points over the past 5 weeks, but it’s been in a one-week-on, one-week-off pattern, so the potential for fantasy production just doesn’t seem there yet. However, if you’re desperate for a TE2, Henry might be someone worth checking out.
While Meyers’ absence last week did lead to an uptick in targets for guys like Tyquan Thornton and Kendrick Bourne, it is difficult to trust either of them to produce again, especially since they have spotty track records. Just make it simple and don’t start them, even if Meyers is out.
Las Vegas Raiders
Derek Carr (Start, fringe QB2)
Derek Carr flopped last week against the Rams, struggling out to just 137 passing yards and 2 interceptions against a Los Angeles defense missing Aaron Donald. A shocking and ultimately disappointing result for Carr’s fantasy investors, who were likely counting on Carr, Mr. Steady Eddie, to produce his usual 17 fantasy points.
Unfortunately for Carr managers, it doesn’t get much easier, as the Rams rank just one spot ahead of the Patriots in terms of fantasy points allowed to QBs. The Pats also rank 4th in defensive DVOA against the pass and 2nd in pressure rate on opposing QBs, illustrating that their defense can make opposing QBs very uncomfortable very quickly. Additionally, what makes me most concerned about Carr’s production is that New England has the highest percentage of QB hurries (they made the QB throw the ball away or leave the pocket earlier than desired) in the NFL, and Carr tends to hold onto the ball for a very long time, relative to his QB peers. It could be a very long day for Mr. Carr in the pocket, as he gets to worry about the speedy Patriots pass rush without having the time to wait for routes to develop.
Given his track record, as he has produced at least 10+ fantasy points in all but 2 of his 13 fantasy performances, you can probably trust Carr to produce 15-or-so fantasy points here. It’s probably not going to be pretty, but if you need to start Derek Carr at this point in the season, you know that.
Josh Jacobs (Start, RB1)
It looks like Josh Jacobs is heading into the weekend with a questionable tag. He practiced in a limited capacity on Wednesday, thanks to a hand injury, but it seems like he is expected to play on Sunday like normal. Fire him up with confidence, even though New England allows the second-fewest fantasy points to running backs, because the Raiders are going to ride Jacobs into the ground for the rest of the season, especially now that he’s approaching free agency.
Wide Receivers/Tight Ends
Davante Adams (Start, WR1), Mack Hollins (FLEX)
Davante is Davante. Even with Carr struggling last week, Davante Adams was still able to put up 10.1 PPR fantasy points, his lowest since Week 8, but it shouldn’t be cause for concern because he’s been a target hog all season. He’s an easy Start, regardless of the matchup.
Once you get past Davante, the Raiders’ receiving corps becomes a little intriguing. Mack Hollins has quietly been totaling up the fantasy points, climbing all the way up to 39th among WRs in PPR scoring. In his past 4 weeks, Hollins has scored no fewer than 8 fantasy points and has seen 95% or more snaps in every week since Week 10, the week after Hunter Renfrow was placed on IR. He even saw some designed rushing plays last week, tacking on 40 rush yards on 3 attempts. It seems as though Hollins might be taking on a “Swiss Army Knife” role in the Raiders offense — although, it has been just one week, so stay cautious — which he might be able to build on, even as Renfrow returns from injury.
Keep in mind that Renfrow and Darren Waller both saw their practice windows activated this week, so the Raiders have 21 days to decide whether to activate them from Injured Reserve or place them back on IR. When Renfrow returns, Hollins probably isn’t worth starting, but until then, he’s not a bad flex option because the Raiders apparently want to find ways to utilize his skillset within the offense. Keep an eye on Renfrow’s injury status for the remainder of the week. And, if you’ve invested in Renfrow or Waller, it’s probably not worth starting either of them yet, given their lengthy absences from live game reps, as the Raiders will likely try to ease them back into their workloads.