“Just when I thought I was out, they pull me back in.”
— Michael Corleone, The Godfather, Part III

This is the last breakdown of the NFL season.

for-the-homies

Let’s do it right.

A Few Words

Before you do anything else, check out this week’s NFL Daily Fantasy Flex pod with FantasyLabs godfathers Jonathan BalesPeter Jennings (CSURAM88), and Adam Levitan. In addition to talking about the ‘Old Man Junior Varsity Olympics,’ they join me in breaking down this last slate of the NFL season.

A Caveat

I’m walking the tightrope without a net, as we have no data in our Player Models for this slate. The Pro Bowl and the Super Bowl can often be unpredictable, and this is the smallest of slates.

I’m not saying that I haven’t done an inordinate amount of research or that skill and strategy won’t play a large role in determining the outcomes of this slate’s daily fantasy contests. I’m saying that the amount of actionable information is less for this slate than it typically is for other small slates (last week’s conference championship slate, for instance) and also that success over the next two weeks will largely be predicated on the ability to anticipate and manage randomness.

If you’re playing this slate, you don’t need me to tell you that you’re a degenerate. That’s not just a statement of fact. That’s a compliment.

Schwing!

Schwing

We salute you.

The Pro Bowl: Random Is as Random Does

Before breaking down this game in particular, I should talk about what Pro Bowls have looked like in recent history.

First of all, I looked at ‘only’ five years of data, but . . .

  1. That’s sufficient to describe this sh*t show of an exhibition.
  2. ESPN has accessible game data for only the past two years.
  3. Not even Pro Football Reference has game statistics for the Pro Bowl. Think about that. PFR has data for basically everything — and they were like, “Pro Bowl, nah, thanks, we’re good” — which means that I can’t use PFR’s handy screening tools to research for the Pro Bowl, which sucks.

Ultimately I had to crawl through NFL.com to find the data, and I’m not a big fan of that site’s functionality. Seriously, I haven’t been cutting and pasting this much since the third f*cking grade.

Also, the rules for the Pro Bowl are different than the rules of a regular NFL game. Let me amend that sentence. I think the rules are different. It’s impossible for me to find the rules for this year’s Pro Bowl, so I’m assuming that the last rules I can find are still applicable.

For the last three years, the NFL has attempted to make the Pro Bowl more ‘fantastic’ by explicitly treating the players like the fantasy assets that they are. In 2014, Jerry Rice and Deion Sanders picked the teams. In 2015, Cris Carter and Michael Irvin selected the rosters. Last year, Irvin and Rice. This year, the league is thankfully returning to the classic/non-awful AFC/NFC format.

But there are probably other rule changes from the last three years that are still in effect. For instance, in 2015 the league decided that for field goal attempts the uprights would be the standard width of 18 feet 6 inches, but for extra points the goal post would be narrowed to 14 feet. I’m not even f*cking joking. I don’t joke about kickers.

Here some other oddities:

Timeouts: Teams have two timeouts per quarter. Unused timeouts from the first and third quarters carry over to the second and fourth quarters.

Two-Minute Warning: Each quarter has a two-minute warning, and possession changes after every quarter.

Kickoffs: There are no kickoffs.

Secondary Configuration and Coverage: The defense is not allowed to use nickel and dime subpackages. In other words, no more than four defensive backs can be on the field at a time. More on this later — and thanks to Seth Yates of RotoGrinders for bringing this to my attention. Also, defenses are now allowed to use a Cover 2 zone and press coverage. Before the 2014 game, they were allowed to use only man coverage.

— The Clock: Within the two-minute warning, the clock stops if the offense does not gain at least one yard on a play. Incomplete passes, though, don’t stop the clock except within the last two minutes of the first half and the last five minutes of the second half. A 35-/25-second play clock is used instead of the standard 40-/25-second clock. And sacks don’t stop the clock except in the final two minutes of the game. The effect of most of these rules is that the Pro Bowl is shorter/played faster.

This game is an exhibition of a sport resembling football.

I cannot emphasize this point enough: Randomness reigns at the Pro Bowl.

For instance . . .

— In 2016, the Rice quarterbacks combined to throw six interceptions . . . and these were so-called All-Star passers.

— In 2015, fullback John Kuhn led the Carter team with 31 yards rushing. He had only two carries, which was three carries too many.

— In 2014, running back Alfred Morris led the Sanders squad with four receptions and 69 yards receiving. In the season leading up to that game, he had only nine receptions for 78 yards.

— In 2013, return specialist Leon Washington led the game with five carries. He had seven yards rushing.

— In 2012, a QB attempted an extra point. He missed.

I could go on, but you get the idea.

The Pro Bowl: Hello, Sir, the End Zone Is This Way

Historically, the Pro Bowl has been a high-scoring game. Over the last three years the total has averaged 59.7 points per game, even with the enhanced ability of the defense to play against the pass. And in the 10 years before that the event averaged an outrageous 76.2 PPG.

Multiple reasons for this outperformance can be found. Defenses often rely on cohesion for success, and an assortment of all-star defenders — though impressive — is likely less than the sum of its separate parts when it has only one week to congeal.

That’s especially the case when the defenders give less than full effort. I’m not saying that the offense tries harder than the defense. All players probably put in the same sh*tty amount of low effort at the Pro Bowl. It’s the dynamic between offense and defense that’s paramount. When defenders play in a meaningless game at the end of a brutal campaign and want nothing more than not to suffer an injury, they tend not to be at their best when it comes to reacting to and stopping offensive players, who have the benefit of knowing the play they’re running. In an environment in which lackadaisical exertion is the norm, the people who know in advance what they’re doing generally do the best.

Additionally, Pro Bowl teams are somewhat de-incentivized to punt or attempt field goals. No fans go to the Pro Bowl to see Dustin Colquitt and Matt Prater kick a ball. At the Pro Bowl, coaches can afford to be bold. If a team fails to convert on fourth down, there are no repercussions for the coach or the players. Because the stakes are so low/nonexistent, people tend to play as if they have nothing to lose.

On top of all that, the offenses are highly incentivized to throw the ball (and throwing results in more points per play than running). Why are teams incentivized to pass? For one, run blocking requires more cohesion along the offensive line than pass blocking, especially in a game in which the defense isn’t likely to blitz often. With only a week of practice, the offensive line doesn’t have time to become collectively good as a unit. In other words, it’s simply easier for an offensive line to pass block and a QB to complete a pass to a wide receiver than for an offensive line to run block well as a group and for a RB to find the right running lane behind a cohort of unfamiliar blockers. Plus, passing plays are simply more exciting.

Here are some numbers. Over the last five years, Pro Bowl QB units have averaged exactly 47 pass attempts per game — even with the rule adjustments to speed up the event. During that same time, the RB units have collectively averaged 16.5 carries per game. Passing is a priority in the Pro Bowl. Running definitely is not.

Plus, offenses are incentivized to pass because defenses can’t play nickel and dime. The impact of this rule cannot be overstated.

Let’s break this down. If a defense is forced to have no more than four defensive backs on the field, then the offense is likely to use a three-WR set to create mismatches. Even if the defense substitutes a third cornerback for one of its safeties — and I believe that is allowed — there is still only one ‘free’ defensive back on the field. A base defense is inherently strained in defending three WRs. And if a team spreads the field with four WRs, then the secondary pretty much has to matchup in man coverage. WRs have an advantage in the Pro Bowl.

But that advantage is nothing in comparison to the advantage that tight ends have. Most TEs who make the Pro Bowl aren’t there because they’re good blockers. They’re there because they’re good receivers — sometimes better than all but the best WRs in the league. Think about who’s defending them in this game. If three DBs are covering three WRs, then either a safety is on the TE (with no defender deep) or a linebacker is on him. In general, the LBs at the Pro Bowl aren’t there because they’re good in coverage. They’re there because they’re either good at rushing the passer or stopping the run. Because of the rule that the defense can’t have more than four DBs on the field, Pro Bowl TEs have the best situation of any group in the slate.

Denise Richards-Smile

D*mn, I’m gonna miss that GIF.

The Pro Bowl: It’s a Game of Proportions

Here’s some analysis of the position groups.

Quarterbacks

Historically, Pro Bowl QBs tend to ball out as a unit, but individually they underwhelm. Each team has three QBs on its roster, and over the last five years the snaps have been split fairly evenly between them.

Frankly, Pro Bowl QBs are beyond risky in cash games. The QB units have averaged 27.3 completions on 47 attempts for 389.2 yards and 4.5 touchdowns over the last five years. That’s awesome — but that means that each QB is averaging only 129.7 yards and 1.5 TDs per game. Plus, QBs don’t run in this game. They just don’t. Over the last five years the most a QB has rushed for is 15 yards. And that was Tyrod Taylor, one of the best running QBs in the league. Don’t look for a lot of QB rushing production in this game.

With three players receiving snaps at the position, upside is greatly limited. Only one QB in the last five years has passed for more than 300 yards — Matthew Stafford (316) in 2015. Fantastic — but in that same game Tony Romo passed for only 43 yards. Besides Stafford, only one other QB hit 200 yards, Luck (205) in 2013. Pro Bowl QBs simply tend not to get yardage.

But if you want to court contrarianism in guaranteed prize pools then you can probably do so because these guys do score TDs. Even with limited snaps, all but two QB in the last five years have scored TDs. In fact, 53.3 percent of them have scored multiple TDs. It’s rare for a QB to score three TDs — it’s happened only twice in this time frame (Russell Wilson in 2013 and 2016) — but if an incredibly cheap QB gave you 175 yards and two TDs in this slate could you really complain? — especially if you stacked him with a receiver who caught those TDs?

Because they are so cheap, all of the Pro Bowl QBs are options in GPPs:

• Drew Brees: $4,300 DK, $6,400 FD
• Philip Rivers: $4,000 DK, $6,000 FD
• Dak Prescott: $3,800 DK, $6,300 FD
• Kirk Cousins: $3,600 DK, $6,300 FD
• Andy Dalton: $3,300 DK, $6,200 FD
• Alex Smith: $3,100 DK, $6,000 FD

Rivers is very cheap on FanDuel, and he’s playing his last game as a ‘San Diego’ Charger, so cough #narrative cough you know he’s going to play his best.

Cousins is relatively cheap on DraftKings, especially considering that he was third in the league this year with 4,917 yards. He was one of the most consistently undervalued DK QBs this year . . .

Cousins-DK

. . . and that trend perhaps has continued into the post/offseason.

I’m tempted to talk about how Brees isn’t playing at the Coors Field of daily fantasy football, but . . . that’s probably irrelevant. He’s played in four Pro Bowls over the last five years. In those games he’s been almost precisely average: 10 completions for 130.25 yards and 1.5 TDs. He’s the most expensive Pro Bowl QB. Given that he doesn’t have a demonstrative edge over the other Pro Bowl QBs, he’s a potential fade.

Dak and Smith are in similar situations. Both are running QBs playing with a couple of actual teammates (RB Ezekiel Elliott and WR Dez Bryant; WR/return specialist Tyreek Hill and TE Travis Kelce) and for their own head coaches (Jason Garrett and Andy Reid).

The sample is small, but in the data I’ve surveyed I’ve found nothing to suggest that QBs tend to target their own receivers more in the Pro Bowl or that their coaches give them a higher percentage of snaps. (If anything I’ve found the opposite on both counts, but, again, the sample is small and inconclusive.)

I think it’s possible that Dak and Smith could see elevated ownership (in comparison to the other Pro Bowl QBs) because they are running QBs playing for their coaches and they might more frequently be stacked with their ‘true’ teammates because of the assumption that their familiarity with each other will result in extra production. That’s just a theory, but it might make sense to be underweight on Dak and Smith — especially Smith, since he’s the worst f*cking player of all time anyway.

If you do play Dak and Smith and want to differentiate your lineup, consider stacking them with receivers who aren’t their actual teammates.

Running Backs

The danger with RBs is obvious. For RBs, volume is everything, and the backs in this game traditionally don’t get the opportunity to dominate. Over the last five years, only one RB has had double-digit carries, Mark Ingram (11) in 2015. His 72 yards rushing is the high mark for the time frame.

Per ESPN, the most carries a RB has ever had in the Pro Bowl is 19. The RB? O.J. Simpson in 1974. I’m telling you, this position is murder.

With the exception of maybe one of the following RBs, these guys absolutely should not be rostered in cash games:

• Ezekiel Elliott: $4,000 DK, $6,000 FD
• DeMarco Murray: $3,700 DK, $5,500 FD
• Melvin Gordon: $3,500 DK, $5,700 FD
• Jordan Howard: $3,200 DK, $5,400 FD
• Jay Ajayi: $2,500 DK, $5,600 FD
• Darren Sproles: $2,100 DK, $4,100 FD

Zeke is tempting in that he’s a three-down workhorse who will be running behind three of the offensive linemen of the Dallas Cowboys, so unlike most Pro Bowl RBs he is familiar with his blockers — and his head coach is on the sidelines. Still, no Pro Bowl RB of the last five years has scored multiple TDs in the game, and on average RB units over that time have managed only 82.5 rushing yards per game.

Murray had a renaissance campaign this season — but he’s old, and he markedly declined as the season progressed. After the Titans’ Week 13 bye, Murray was at his worst even though he theoretically should’ve been fresh. Per RotoViz:

DeMarco-Weeks 14-17

He looks exactly like the type of old veteran who gets three to five Pro Bowl carries and a target and calls it a day.

I’ve been vocal in stating my belief that MG3 is a near-talentless hack who this season feasted on the soft carbs of massive volume. Do you know what you call guys who average 3.7 yards per carry (YPC) over their first two NFL seasons? “Bishop Sankey” — except Sankey had 3.8 YPC. You don’t bring a buffet eater to high tea and expect him to get full.

Ajayi’s a smidgen intriguing in that he’s fairly cheap on DK, and he’s the only AFC RB who didn’t limp to the finish line. With a 73.9 percent catch rate and 4.7 YPC for his career, Ajayi’s better than his reputation.

Sproles is dirt cheap and the one potentially reasonable punt play of this cohort. The sample is small, but in his only two Pro Bowl appearances (2015 and 2016) he’s been productive with little volume, turning 2.5 carries and 4.5 targets into 3.5 receptions, 67.5 scrimmage yards, and 0.5 TDs per game. Sproles is the type of player who has built his career on the ability to produce with limited touches. Over the last five Pro Bowls, 59.4 and 54.9 percent of all RB production on DK and FD has been through the passing game. If there’s a Pro Bowl RB who’s actually in a decent situation, it’s Sproles, especially given his price. Plus . . . #DrewBreesReunionNarrative. Sproles’ three seasons with Brees in New Orleans were his best as a receiver. Just sayin’.

Over the last five years, only five rushing TDs have been scored. One was by QB Cam Newton. Two were by RBs Doug Martin and Marshawn Lynch. And two were by FBs Jerome Felton and Vonta Leach. I’m not rostering them, but I wouldn’t be surprised if Mike Tolbert ($1,600 DK, $4,000 FD) or Kyle Juszczyk ($1,500 DK, $4,000 FD) scored a TD. It’s the Pro Bowl. Randomness happens.

Ultimately the problem with the RBs is similar to the problem with the QBs. All the production for each team is fairly evenly split between three players — except the RBs aren’t nearly as productive as the QBs in the first place.

Wide Receivers

Welcome to the value.

Each year four WRs per team play in the Pro Bowl — sometimes five if the return specialist is also a WR. The base formation is typically a three-WR package. Occasionally, teams will mix it up by using 12 (one RB, two TEs) or 21 (two RBs, one TE) personnel — but in general Pro Bowl WRs play a relatively high percentage of snaps.

At QB and RB, three guys split snaps for one spot each. At WR, four (five?) guys split snaps for three-ish spots. Because of the improved ratio, it’s possible that a number of WRs could play 60-70 percent of the offensive snaps. That’s outstanding usage for the depressed WR salaries in this game.

On average, Pro Bowl WR units have scored 52.63 DK and 45.83 FD PPG on the strength of 13.6 receptions, 222.3 yards, and 2.8 TDs.

Get some

Here are this year’s Pro Bowl WRs (and two return specialists):

• Odell Beckham: $5,600 DK, $6,300 FD
• Mike Evans: $5,500 DK, $6,200 FD
• Dez Bryant: $4,700 DK, $6,100 FD
• T.Y. Hilton: $4,400 DK, $6,000 FD
• Doug Baldwin: $4,100 DK, $5,900 FD
• Emmanuel Sanders: $3,900 DK, $5,500 FD
Jarvis Landry: $3,700 DK, $5,400 FD
• Demaryius Thomas: $3,600 DK, $5,600 FD
• Tyreek Hill: $1,900 DK, $5,400 FD
• Cordarrelle Patterson: $1,700 DK, $4,000 FD

Even against the best defensive backs in the league, these guys have decent chances of finishing the slate with positive Plus/Minus values. It really helps all of them that they are playing against non-nickel/dime defenses.

Tyreek is woefully undervalued even without the opportunity to return kickoffs — he had nine non-kick return TDs in his last 12 games of the regular season — but other than that I don’t have much to say about any of these players individually. You know who they are, and we can’t say with much certainty which defensive backs they’ll most frequently face. Exposure should probably be distributed somewhat evenly — although I wouldn’t mind being heavy on OBJ, who (after his scoreless first month of the season) was the No. 1 fantasy WR over the final 13 weeks.

Collectively, these 10 WRs provided significant value this season (per our Trends tool) . . .

Pro Bowl WRs-DK

Pro Bowl WRs-FD

. . . and that was at much higher prices.

When else are you going to have the opportunity to roster any of these guys at a 30-70 percent discount?

Don’t roster only Pro Bowl WRs, but strongly consider having at least one of them in each lineup.

Tight Ends

Yes, OMG, yes. This year’s cohort of Pro Bowl TEs is good . . .

• Travis Kelce: $4,000 DK, $5,800 FD
• Greg Olsen: $3,800 DK, $5,700 FD
• Jimmy Graham: $3,600 DK, $5,500 FD
• Delanie Walker: $3,100 DK, $5,600 FD

. . . and they’re in an ideal situation because of the defensive requirement that no more than four DBs be on the field. Most of the routes they run will be against (outmatched) linebackers. When given the option of throwing against linebackers who aren’t used to covering route runners all the time or defensive backs who are among the best in the league, the Pro Bowl QBs could easily choose to throw to TEs more than they usually do.

Over the last five years, TEs on a per-player basis have averaged 11.68 DK and 10.03 FD PPG in the Pro Bowl — and that includes classic non-performances by charity case Jermaine Gresham (2012 and 2013) and #DadRunner Jason Witten (2013-2015) as well as an injury-shortened outing last year by Tyler Eifert.

In fact if we simply narrow our focus to the four TEs playing this year — all of whom have been in the Pro Bowl previously — we’ll see that over the last five years they’ve combined to average 19.3 DK and 17.3 FD PPG on a 4/63/1.5 stat line.

jack-black-nodding

There are two additional factors that make these four TEs attractive:

  1. In comparison to QBs and RBs, they have less positional dilution. There are only two (instead of three) players per team competing for snaps at one spot, and occasionally both players might play at the same time. All of these TEs are likely to play about 50 percent of the offensive snaps, which is pretty good for the Pro Bowl.
  2. On a per-snap basis, Pro Bowl TEs tend to pass and run block relatively little. They’re there to run routes.

On FD, where TE pricing is relatively flat, it probably makes sense to pay all the way up for Kelce. On DK, paying down for Walker could be the optimal move, as he leads the group with seven TDs on the season and 13 TDs over the last two years. In fact, rostering two TEs on DK might not be a bad idea.

Also, you know how people who used to date in high school sometimes have epic one-night sexfests whenever they see each other for the first time in years at class reunions? Graham and Brees are about to play together for the first time in two years. Yes, the #NOLANarrative is on.

Defense/Special Teams

I really don’t see the downside in paying down for the AFC DST ($1,200 DK, $4,000 FD) or the NFC DST ($1,000 DK, $4,000 FD), especially on DK. On average Pro Bowl QB units throw 2.4 INTs per contest. They can afford to be a little careless with the ball — and that benefits the defense.

Kickers

I’m staying far away from Justin Tucker ($4,500 FD) and Matt Prater ($4,500 FD). Over the last five years, kickers have averaged only 0.9 field goal attempts per game — and they’ve made only 0.5. Why do these all-star kickers underperform in the Pro Bowl? Coaches aren’t incentivized to ‘settle’ for FGs in the high-scoring pseudo-exhibition game, and the kickers don’t have the benefit of playing with their normal holders.

Plus, the goal posts are narrower on extra points, so not even those can be relied upon: Two years ago Cody Parkey missed two of his four XP attempts. And five years ago Drew F*cking Brees stole an XP attempt from his kicker — because ‘what the f*ck does it matter? — it’s not a real game anyway.’ And now teams have started to eschew the XP attempt altogether, going for the two-point conversion with more frequency.

Tucker might be the best kicker in the NFL, and he’s available for the minimum price — but in his only previous Pro Bowl appearance (in 2014) he missed both FG attempts and had only three XPs. In the Pro Bowl, being one of the best kickers in the league means jack sh*t.

The Super Bowl: Everything There Is to Know

Ironically, I probably (hopefully?) have less to say about this game than about the Pro Bowl. I realize I have a lot to say about this game. Congratulations.

The game is being played at NRG Stadium in Houston. Weather will not be a factor. The game currently has a high 59-point over/under, and the Patriots are three-point favorites. The Pats are implied for 31 points; the Falcons, 28.

Over the last few weeks I’ve written pieces on everything there is to know about wild card weekendthe divisional playoffs, and the conference championships. I’ll try to give a condensed ‘Super Bowl version’ of those articles here.

We’ve had the same four-divisions-per-conference playoff system over the last 14 years. The sample of Super Bowls is small but probably still instructive. We’ve had one pick’em (two years ago with the Patriots and Seahawks), but other than that the Super Bowls under this format have had clear Vegas favorites and dogs.

The Vegas Data

Over the last 14 years, the average over/under for a Super Bowl has been 47.6 points. This year, with the high-scoring Pats and Falcons, the Vegas total is 11.4 points higher than it normally is.

On the one hand, the high total seems absurd. On the other hand, the Patriots have done very well this year when QB Tom Brady ($8,700 DK, $9,900 FD) has played . . .

Pats-Brady

. . . and the Falcons have been world-beaters with Matt Ryan ($9,100 DK, $9,500 FD) guiding the offense:

Falcons-Ryan

Both of these teams can put up a lot of points.

Plus, Vegas has been remarkably sharp with the Super Bowl over/under during this period. The final total on average deviates from the Vegas total by only 0.8 points, and the over and under have both been hit exactly 50 percent of the time. This line could end up being indicative of the type of game we’ll see.

With the spreads, however, Vegas has been woefully wrong. It also hasn’t been much better at handicapping the right teams. The 13 favorites have averaged a 5.35-point spread and been implied to score 26.5 points. They’ve actually scored only 21.7 points, with a shortfall of -4.8 points. They’ve hit their implied total in only 38.5 percent of games. The favorites on average underperformed the spread by -10.0 points. They’ve actually lost 53.9 percent of the time.

To phrase all of this differently: On average, the favorites have barely exceeded the implied total for the dogs — and the dogs have barely missed hitting the implied total of the favorites. The dogs have been implied for 21.1 points. They’ve averaged 26.4 points. The underdogs have hit their implied totals 69.2 percent and covered 76.9 percent of the time.

Again, the sample is small — but the Vegas value has historically been on the side of the dog.

No. 1/2 vs. No. 1/2

What has historically happened in the Super Bowl when both teams have been top-two seeds — division winners who earned a playoff bye and were among the NFL’s best teams in the regular season? We’ve had six such games over the past 14 years. In these games, we see a more extreme version of the larger trends already explored.

The over/under has been 47.7 points. On average the final total is 2.2 points higher, with the over and under each hitting 50 percent of the time.

The favorites have been implied for 26.2 points. They scored only 16 points. Not once did they hit their implied total or cover the spread. In fact, they fell short of the spread by an average of -21.9 points.

The underdogs have been implied for 21.7 points and have scored a massive 33.4!!! They’ve hit their implied total every game. On average they’ve scored 17.4 points more than the favorites. The underdog has won 80 percent of these games.

Everything about this looks horrifying for the Patriots and tantalizing for the Falcons. I cannot say this enough: The sample is small. It might be more descriptive of the past than predictive of the future . . . but within this sample the data is unambiguous.

The Patriots: Super Bowl Veterans

The Pats have been in the Super Bowl five times over the last 14 years. Needless to say, that’s the most of any franchise. The Pats won three of those games. The two they lost were against the Giants. They’re not playing the Giants now, so they’re basically stone-cold locks to crush.

[Not serious.]

In those five games, the Pats have always been the No. 1 seed. They’ve never been an underdog.

Again, their game with the Seahawks in 2015 was a pick’em. Falcons head coach Dan Quinn was the defensive coordinator for the Seahawks in that game.

On average, the Pats have been 13.8-2.2, and they’re opponents have been 11-5. The Pats finished the regular season as the No. 1 seed at 14-2; the Falcons, 11-5.

For a team-specific Super Bowl sample, this five-game sample is about the best that we could hope for, especially since Brady was the QB and Bill Belichick the head coach for all five games.

In these Pats Super Bowls, the over/under has been 48 points. The final total on average has fallen short by -2.6 points. The Pats have given away -5.9 points via the spread and been implied for 27.0 points. On average they’ve failed to hit that mark by -4.0 points. They’ve hit their implied total in 40 percent of the games. Despite winning three of these contests, the Pats have managed in the aggregate to outscore their opponents by only 0.6 points.

Their opponents have been implied for 21.1 points, scoring 22.4 and hitting their implied total 60 percent of the time. The opponents have covered 80 percent of the games.

Within this sample, the Pats have never won or lost a Super Bowl by more than four points. It’s easy to look at this data and realize that the Pats easily could’ve gone 1-4 (or 5-0) instead of 3-2 if just a couple game events had gone differently.

2016: Vegas Data

The historical data suggests caution for the Patriots and tentative optimism for the Falcons. What does the 2016 data say?

This season, the Patriots have been an amazing 15-3 against the spread (ATS) — yet their games have hit the over only eight of 18 times. The Falcons are a respectable 12-6 ATS (5-1 as underdogs), and an unreal 15 of their 18 games have hit the over. Collectively, this data suggests that 1) the Falcons are likely to juice this game to the over and 2) the ATS outcome could be close either way.

But there may be reason to be a little bearish on the Falcons. This season, the Pats were very strong at limiting the production of opposing teams. On the one hand, you could look at their schedule, see that their opponents were implied to score only 19.5 PPG, and say, “Yeah, they should dominate them.” On the other hand, the Pats held opponents to 15.7 PPG — 3.8 PPG below their implied totals, which they hit in only 27.8 percent of games.

Is that data something that should concern us regarding the Falcons? Meh. The Falcons hit their implied total in an unbelievable 88.9 percent of games. On average, the difference between their final and implied totals was +8.2 points. That number is otherworldly. The Falcons seem as if they still have a good chance of hitting their implied total despite the Vegas-adjusted stinginess of the Patriots.

And what about the Patriots offense against the Falcons defense? With Brady, the Pats hit their implied total in 57.1 percent of games — an acceptable-ish number — and on average they outscored their implied total by 2.7 PPG. Those numbers aren’t Falcons-esque — but they’re alright. And theoretically they might look even better next to the numbers of the Falcons defense.

During the regular season, the Falcons allowed 25.4 PPG — the sixth-highest total in the league — so most people assume that they suck on defense. And that’s sort of true — but (including the playoffs) this year they’ve allowed opponents to hit their implied totals in just 50 percent of their games, so it’s not as if the Pats seem especially likely to have a huge Vegas edge.

In fact, since since their Week 11 bye the Falcons have seemingly improved on defense. In their eight post-bye games, the Falcons have held opponents to only 20.5 PPG, a -2.1 OU/final differential, and a 25 percent hit rate on their implied total. For the last eight games, the Falcons defense has been pretty good.

And on offense since the bye they’ve scored 37.5 PPG, accumulated an +8.5 OU/final differential, and hit their implied total at a rate of 100 percent.

The Patriots defense is undeniably good. During the regular season the Pats held opponents to a league-low 15.6 PPG, and in the postseason they held the Dolphins and Steelers to 16 and 17 points. But the Falcons defense has improved as the season has progressed — and somehow so has their mind-altering offense.

The 2016 Vegas data favors the Falcons.

2016: Common Opponents

Even though they are in different conferences, the Pats and Falcons had five opponents in common this year. I’m not sure how useful it is to compare performance across common opponents — but (as always) the data is compelling.

Brady played against four of the five common opponents — the Seahawks, 49ers, Rams, and Broncos — so those are the four we’ll consider. Additionally, since the Falcons played against the Seahawks twice, I’ve adjusted the weighting of those two games in the overall averages.

What does the data say?

Against those four teams, the Pats were implied to score 27.8 PPG. They instead averaged 24 PPG. They hit their implied total in not one game. Defensively they were robust. Their opponents were implied to score 19.3 PPG but were held to 15.3. Opponents hit their implied point totals in only one of the games. This is basically more of what we’ve already seen — except it’s worse for the offense.

What about the Falcons? They were implied to score 25.3 PPG. They instead scored 34 PPG — exactly 10 PPG more than the Pats. They hit their implied total in every game. Their opponents were implied to score 21.75. The Falcons held them to 16.5 PPG. Not one opponent hit its implied point total.

One second . . .

ferrell-old-school

. . . that’s a video of me converting all of my 2016 wages into six-packs of Coors Lite and then ‘investing’ them in the Falcons.

And this . . .

voldemort-fire-snake

. . . was just an excuse to post another GIF. But it’s certainly evocative. In the words of the filmic Neville Longbottom, “I feel like I can spit fire.” I’m so f*cking excited to lose every six-pack of sh*t beer in the world wagering on the Falcons.

The Super Bowl: I Hope I Don’t Lose All My Money

Let’s break down the positions.

Quarterbacks

If you want to be prudent, you’ll probably roster Brady on DK and Ryan on FD. You’ll be diversifying and employing arbitrage. #HedgeLife and all that.

If you want to be a playa . . .

tom-cruise-tropic-thunder

. . . then you’ll probably pick just one QB and roster him everywhere. There’s no judgment here either way.

The case for Brady is straightforward. He’s Tom F*cking Brady, and he’s playing for his fifth world championship. He’s been here before . . .

Brady-Super Bowl

. . . and if we set aside his first appearance in which he was basically a winning version of Alex Smith then Brady has averaged 21.62 DK and 20.22 FD PPG in the Super Bowl.

Additionally, Brady’s played strong football recently. Over his last four games he’s completed 65.7 percent of his 35 attempts per game for 290.25 yards, 2.75 TDs, and 23.48 DK and 22.73 FD PPG.

Plus, even with the Falcons’ recent improvement on defense, the matchup for Brady is delicious. During the regular season the Falcons allowed QBs to score the second-most FD points (19.9 PPG) and third-most DK points (20.8 PPG). In the playoffs they just allowed Russell Wilson and Aaron Rodgers to score 19.9 and 27.1 fantasy points.

Against non-rookie QBs who were favored and didn’t leave the game early due to injury, the Falcons were exploitable:

Falcons-QBs-DKFalcons-QBs-FD

On top of that, Brady throughout his career hasn’t been impacted by home/away splits:

Brady-home-away-2001

In fact, being away from the cold weather of Foxborough could potentially improve his performance.

But Brady has three main problems:

  1. He’s not Matty Fire & Ice.
  2. The Pats might be able to win without a big game from Brady.
  3. Tight end Rob Gronkowski is out.

We’ll touch on point No. 1 in a little bit.

Regarding point No. 2: The Falcons are weak against the rush, and the Patriots are a malleable team. They cater their game plans to their opponents. It’s possible that the Pats could use a relatively run-heavy offense to attack the Falcons defense at a point of weakness and to keep the Falcons offense off the field. Against the Broncos five games ago the Patriots started to emphasize the running game, and since then RBs LeGarrette Blount ($5,300 DK, $7,100 FD) and Dion Lewis ($5,700 DK, $7,000 FD) have averaged 15 and 12.8 carries per game. Perhaps the Patriots will want for Brady not to attempt many passes.

And point No. 3: It really doesn’t help Brady that he’s without Gronk (back), who exited the team’s Week 12 game against the Jets in the first quarter and was placed on Injured Reserve in Week 13. Without Gronk, Brady was a borderline DFS option in the regular season . . .

Brady-Since Week 12Brady-Since Week 12-FD

. . . and since Gronk’s second-year breakout in 2011 Brady has been a lesser version of himself when Gronk has been absent:

brady-with-gronk

On an almost identical number of pass attempts, Brady has fewer fantasy points, completions, yards, and TDs — and more INTs — without Gronk.

As for Ryan, he’s been a revelation this season. From last year to this year, the first-team All-Pro QB in the regular season threw 353 more yards, 17 more TDs, and nine fewer INTs while throwing 80 fewer passes in general and 74 fewer passes to WR Julio Jones ($10,100 DK, $9,600 FD) in particular.

David Spade-Wig

In the regular season, Mr. Sarah Marshall led the league with a 7.1 percent TD rate and 9.3 yards per attempt. Per Player Profiler:

ryan-pp-1ryan-pp-2

Brady is perhaps the best QB in NFL history, but right now Ryan might be better.

Ryan is coming off perhaps the best stretch of his career. He hasn’t completed less than 70 percent of his passes in any of his last five games, and over the last three games he hasn’t passed for fewer than 325 yards or three TDs.

Brendan Fraser

Yes, it’s quite exciting.

As I mentioned earlier, the matchup doesn’t look good for Ryan. During the regular season the Patriots held QBs to the ninth-fewest fantasy points in the league (17.1 DK and 16.4 FD PPG).

At the same time, the Patriots have played against perhaps the most uninspiring cohort of opposing QBs any team has faced this year:

Carson Palmer (ARZ): Week 1
Ryan Tannehill (MIA): Week 2
Brock Osweiler (HOU): Week 3
• Tyrod Taylor (BUF): Week 4
• Cody Kessler (CLE): Week 5
• Andy Dalton (CIN): Week 6
• Landry Jones (PIT): Week 7
• Tyrod Taylor (BUF): Week 8
Bye: Week 9
• Russell Wilson (SEA): Week 10
• Colin Kaepernick (SF): Week 11
• Ryan Fitzpatrick (NYJ): Week 12
• Jared Goff (LAR): Week 13
• Joe Flacco (BLT): Week 14
• Trevor Siemian (DEN): Week 15
• Bryce Petty (NYJ): Week 16
• Matt Moore (MIA): Week 17
• Bye: Wild Card Weekend
Brock Osweiler (HOU): Divisional Playoffs
• Road Ben Roethlisberger (PIT): Conference Championship

Seriously . . .

Anchorman-laughing

. . . if I were trying to build an easier QB schedule for the Patriots defense, I don’t know if I could. That QBs haven’t scored a lot of points against the Patriots isn’t a surprise.

In fact, the Patriots defense this year was only 23rd against the pass in Football Outsiders’ Defense-Adjusted Value Over Average (DVOA) but was fourth in rush DVOA. Playing against one of the best QBs in the league, New England’s funnel defense could facilitate another big performance by Ryan.

Over his career he has negligible home/road splits . . .

Ryan-home-road-2008

. . . and favorite/underdog splits:

Ryan-favorite-underdog-2008

Ryan’s likely to be the chalk. He’s $500 DK and $300 FD more expensive than he’s ever been — but it’s almost impossible to say that he’s not worth his salary.

Running Backs

It’s the height of ridiculousness that Blount is the cheapest of the “Big Four” RBs on DK. Did people all of a sudden stop caring about TDs?

I’ve written before about the overvaluation of premium assets in DFS, and Blount’s relative salary suggests that DK is overpricing expected receptions in RBs. Receptions are great. They’re important. “I really need to find a RB with double-digit reception upside so that I can win the Milly Maker,” said no one ever.

Even on DK, TDs are what matter — and during the regular season Blount led the NFL with 18 TDs rushing as well as both carries and TDs inside the five-, 10-, and 20-yard lines. Who cares that Blount has averaged only o.5 targets per game this season (including the postseason)? He’s also averaged 17.9 carries, 71.4 scrimmage yards, and 1.1 TDs per game.

There’s an important distinction between average and frequency. Blount wasn’t one of the leaders in DK PPG this season, but in 18 games this season he has scored TDs in all of them but four. David Johnson didn’t score a TD in six of 16 games. Le’Veon Bell didn’t score a TD in nine of 15 games. Even the ‘great’ MG3 didn’t score a TD in five of 13 games. He doesn’t average a lot of points, but Blount’s one of the most consistent RBs in the league, and because of his steady goal-line work his floor and ceiling are always among the highest at the position in any given slate.

Blount’s had double-digit carries in every game this season but one. Even though the ’emergence’ of Lewis has stolen a few carries from Blount — he’s averaged ‘only’ 15 carries per game since Lewis first earned double-digit carries five games ago — the fact is that Blount has still averaged a TD per game over that time. Lewis actually has the higher DK PPG (11.12 vs. 10.65) since Week 15 — but Lewis has scored a TD in only one of nine games this season. Blount is still the team’s TD bulldozer.

And we haven’t even touched the fact that the Falcons this season were 29th in rush DVOA.

Over the last three years, Blount has been a TD machine when he’s gotten at least double-digit carries with the Patriots as favorites:

Blount-10 touches

Are you willing to bet that he doesn’t score?

After going on forever about Blount, I’ll probably seem hypocritical in some way by saying that Lewis and James White ($2,900 DK, $5,300 FD) are intriguing — but they’re intriguing.

Lewis has hit double-digit fantasy points in only two games this season — Blount’s achieved that feat in 13 games, by the way — so I’m not suggesting that you roster Lewis in cash games, but I do like Lewis in GPPs for two reasons:

  1. He has the Black Swan/Tyreek-esque ability to score as a rusher, receiver, and returner.
  2. The Falcons aren’t just bad against RBs. (During the regular season they allowed RBs to score 28.1 DK and 24.0 FD PPG — the fourth- and fifth-highest marks in the league.) The Falcons are also bad against RBs who can catch the ball. They’re 26th in pass DVOA against the position, and during the regular season they allowed league-high marks in targets (141), receptions (109), yards (870), and TDs (six) to RBs.

After working his way back into action during his first month of games, Lewis has reemerged as an all-around presence, averaging 12.8 carries, three targets, 1.2 kick returns and 59.2 scrimmage yards per game since Week 15. Lewis isn’t a lead back, but his increased carries as well as his peripheral opportunities give him GPP upside.

As for White, the guy’s inordinately cheap on DK. He’s lost some snaps and targets since Lewis returned in Week 11 — but White nevertheless has still averaged about one third of the offensive snaps and 4.9 targets per game over the last nine weeks. Even with just a few receptions and 20 or so yards on DK he could return value.

I think that we can get through Devonta Freeman ($8,600 DK, $8,300 FD) and Tevin Coleman ($5,800 DK, $6,800 FD) pretty quickly.

After submitting one of the greatest ‘disappointing’ campaigns of all time — 1,541 yards and 13 TDs from scrimmage in 16 games — Devonta in the playoffs has averaged 104.5 scrimmage yards, one TD, and 20.45 DK and 18.45 FD points on 14 carries, five targets, and four receptions per game. (Yawn.)

Sarcasm aside, Devonta is likely to be extremely chalky. He’s not especially expensive given that over the season he averaged +4.32 DK and +5.31 FD Plus/Minus values. Plus, he’s the slate’s only RB who seems like a near lock to get 15 touches — a threshold he’s hit in every game this season except for one (a 42-14 Week 14 blowout of the Rams).

There are a couple of issues, though, with Devonta. With Coleman’s emergence this season, Devonta has exhibited negative home/road splits . . .

Devonta-Road-DKDevonta-Road-FD

. . . and negative favorite/underdog splits:

Devonta-Dog-DKDevonta-Dog-FD

The Falcons aren’t technically on the ‘road’ for this neutral game — but they are underdogs and definitely aren’t at home. Devonta’s still likely to get his touches, but it’s not a great spot for him.

Also, Devonta has a subpar matchup. As mentioned previously, the Pats are fourth in rush DVOA, and during the regular season they held RBs to the fifth-fewest fantasy points in the league: 20.8 DK and 17.3 FD PPG.

The good news for Devonta is that he’s a strong pass catcher with 1,040 yards receiving over the last two years and the Pats are 20th in pass DVOA against RBs. During the regular season they allowed the fourth-most targets (126), second-most receptions (101), and third-most yards receiving (801) to RBs. One way or another, Devonta is likely to produce.

In the eight games since the Falcons’ Week 11 bye, Devonta has 10 TDs.

If you want to pivot away from Freeman then Coleman is a strong arbitrage play. Over 15 games this season, he has 1,084 scrimmage yards, 37 receptions, and 13 TDs. He’s the cheap high-upside option for exposure to Atlanta’s offense.

Wide Receivers

Is it weird to say that I like Ryan but am a tad hesitant about Julio Jones ($10,100 DK, $9,600 FD) and Mohamed Sanu ($5,900 DK, $6,400 FD)?

The Moustachioed Assassin is one the top WRs in the NFL, but there are three reasons not to love him this week:

  1. His price
  2. His injury
  3. His matchup

Julio is $500 DK and $200 FD more expensive than he’s ever been. His salary isn’t prohibitive, but his presence in a lineup limits the possibilities of roster construction — plus this season Julio has averaged +0.36 DK and -0.99 FD Plus/Minus values when he’s been priced within $1,000 of his present salary. In the aggregate, Julio hasn’t been a great asset for value investors when his salary has been inflated.

I’m not too worried about Julio’s lingering toe injury. Although the injury sidelined him for Weeks 14-15, he returned in Weeks 16-17, rested on wild card weekend, and then produced a 6/67/1 stat line on limited snaps in the divisional playoffs despite aggravating his injury in the fourth quarter. And then in the NFC Conference Championship he played through the injury and slayed with a 9/180/2 stat line. He reportedly returned to a limited practice on Friday and should be ready to play in the Super Bowl — monitor Julio’s status on our NFL News feed — but investing in the slate’s most expensive player when he’s significantly hampered is dangerous.

And it’s especially dangerous since Julio is playing against the Patriots. Given how the Pats have used CB Malcolm Butler since the middle of the season, it’s possible (likely?) that he will shadow Julio on his outside routes. While the idea of anyone attempting to shadow Julio might seem laughable, the fact is that Butler has been an excellent player this season. More than just the unknown hero of Super Bowl XLIX, Butler is Pro Football Focus’ No. 5 cover CB with an excellent 90.0 grade in pass defense. In the two games this season in which he shadowed Antonio Brown, he managed to hold him to a per-game stat line of 7/91.5/0. That production is respectable, but if you pay up for Julio and he gives you that stat line you’ll probably be disappointed.

Shanahan is one of the best coordinators in the league and is likely to move Julio around the formation to scheme him open — and that might work — but it’s likely that Butler (maybe with safety help) will be charged with defending Julio for the majority of his routes on the outside. And when Julio moves into the slot to get away from Butler he’s likely to run most of his routes against CB Logan Ryan, who plays primarily on the inside and is PFF’s No. 12 cover CB with an 84.7 grade against the pass.

Even though the Pats are 23rd in pass DVOA, no one should assume that this is an easy matchup for Julio. During the regular season the Pats held opposing WR groups to the ninth-fewest FD points (27.0 PPG) and 10th-fewest DK points (34.0 PPG) in the league. With two weeks to prepare, Belichick’s Patriots will likely be committed to making someone other than Julio beat them.

Ironically, one factor Julio seems to have in his favor is his status as an underdog. In Shanny’s offense, Julio has had extreme reverse favorite/dog splits:

Julio-dog-DKJulio-dog-FD

With the Falcons likely to have something of a pass-heavy game plan, Julio has a decent chance of getting his targets — and with Julio it’s been all about targets this season. He’s been great this year when targeted at least eight times in a game:

Julio-8 targets-PFR

When he’s had fewer than eight targets, he’s been pretty bad:

Julio-8 targetsB-PFR

On the one hand, eight targets per game is a totally arbitrary threshold. On the other hand, do you think this game will turn out well for Julio if he’s not averaging at least two targets per quarter?

Julio without question deserves strong GPP exposure — but he’s dangerous for cash games. It’s possible that he could get the Baldwin (1/3/1), Victor Cruz (4/25/1), Plaxico Burress (2/27/1), Isaac Bruce (5/56/0), and Torry Holt (5/49/0) treatment that Belichick has bestowed upon stud WRs in the past. It’s also possible that he could go full Terrell Owens (9/122/0).

When Logan isn’t plastered on Julio in the slot, he’s likely to be spending many of his snaps defending Sanu, who lines up mostly on the inside. Sanu has been a solid No. 2 WR for the Falcons in his first year with the team, and he’s on something of a recent hot streak with 14.83 DK and 12.67 FD PPG and three TDs over his last three games.

But he’s something of an anti-Julio with his favorite/dog splits. They’re horrifying:

Sanu-road-DKSanu-road-FD

The implication of these splits is clear. Sanu is a nonessential member of the Falcons offense. When the team has an excess of points to distribute, Sanu partakes in the production. When the team needs to be more careful with its possessions, Sanu barely exists.

Like Sanu, Taylor Gabriel ($5,400 DK, $5,900 FD) is a nonessential Falcon who has despicable favorite/dog splits:

Gabriel-dog

But Gabriel nevertheless is intriguing — because he’s not Sanu. He’s $500 cheaper, more volatile, just as productive on DK and more productive on FD, and likely to have lower ownership. Gabriel could be an underappreciated contrarian stacking candidate.

Aldrick Robinson ($2,200 DK, $4,100 FD): Since the Falcons’ Week 11 bye, Lord Aldrick has averaged 2.6 targets per game. Dreams die hard. Adam Levitan might be the only person in the world who would roster Robinson on DK instead of Tyreek.

For the Patriots, Julian Edelman ($8,900 DK, $8,500 FD) has been an Edelmanimal in the second half of the season. Gronk missed Week 11, played seven snaps in Week 12, and then was placed on Injured Reserve in Week 13. In Weeks 11-17, Edelman was a top-six fantasy WR:

Edelman-Since Week 11-DKEdelman-Since Week 11-FD

His hot streak has continued into the postseason, as he’s averaged an 8/127.5/0.5 stat line over the last two games against defenses that were top-12 in pass DVOA.

In theory, there’s nothing particularly advantageous about Edelman’s matchup. The Falcons are 19th in pass DVOA, which isn’t awful, and Falcons slot CB Brian Poole is PFF’s No. 42 cover CB with an average grade of 75.7 in pass defense.

In actuality, though, this is an exploitable matchup. During the regular season, the Falcons allowed the eighth-most DK points (38.7 PPG) and ninth-most FD points (31.1 PPG) to opposing WRs. Additionally, the Falcons are 29th in pass DVOA against ‘supplementary’ WRs — i.e., non-No. 1 and No. 2 WRs — but since Edelman is the rare No. 1 WR who plays the majority of his snaps in the slot he probably classifies as a supplementary WR through an FO loophole.

In fact, Poole has been something of a DFS liability despite his PFF coverage grade. Everyday, run-of-the-mill, play-in-the-slot-because-they’re-sh*tty WRs Adam Humphries and Philly Brown averaged 10.18 DK and 8.43 FD PPG in four collective games against the Falcons, good for +4.14 DK and +3.49 FD Plus/Minus values. In the NFC Conference Championship, Randall Cobb had a 6/82/0 stat line. The week before that, Baldwin had a 5/80/1 performance in the divisional playoffs.

As Brady’s No. 1 receiver, Edelman has little reason not to be all . . .

Ron Swanson-Dancing

. . . when he lines up against Poole and the Falcons. Since Week 11, Edelman has double-digit targets in each game except for one (the 41-3 Week 16 blowout of the Jets).

The Julio-esque hero of the AFC Championship Game, Chris Hogan ($6,200 DK, $6,900 FD) would be a great GPP play if not for his probable high ownership after his 9/120/2 ‘out of nowhere’ performance last week.

Of course, Hogan’s performance wasn’t out of nowhere. Hogan actually led the league this year with 17.9 yards per reception. The Pats have consistently used him as a deep ball receiver because of his rare blend of size and speed, and he’s excelled in that role with 14.8 air yards per target — a mark that’s one of the best in the league and comparable to the averages of other big-bodied athletic studs in Dez (15.1), Evans (14.6), and Julio (13.7). Before last week’s performance he had already had some big games.

With Hogan the question is always one of volume: Is he going to get enough targets? When he’s had a minimum of four targets per game (one per quarter), he’s produced.

Hogan-4 targets

We can’t expect Hogan to have 12 targets again, but his volume has increased over the second half of the season. Since returning from a back injury in Week 12, Hogan has helped fill the void left by Gronk, seeing at least four targets in each game except for the Week 15 contest against the Broncos, against whom the Patriots featured a very run-heavy offense.

Averaging 5.5 targets per game over his last eight outings, Hogan is an important even if volatile member of the Patriots offense.

I don’t have much to say about Malcolm Mitchell ($3,000 DK, $4,300 FD) and Michael Floyd ($2,700 DK, $4,700 FD). They’re similar to Hogan in that they’re used primarily as downfield supplements to the Edelman-focused short passing game. From Weeks 11-14, Mitchell averaged 5.25 receptions for 65.75 yards and a TD per game. Floyd is a former first-round pick with three 800-yard seasons on his resume. I’m not betting a six-pack on it, but if ether of them for some random reason got the production that we might expect for Hogan that wouldn’t surprise me. We’re talking about non-Edelman Pats WRs.

Understudy envy personified, Danny Amendola ($2,600 DK, $4,400 FD) has averaged 2.2 targets per game since the Pats’ Week 9 bye. If you were to ask Jeff Fisher, he’d tell you that’s not bad for a part-time RB. And he’d be right.

Tight Ends

I’m angry that I even feel the need to mention nonentities Levine Toilolo ($1,800 DK, $4,200 FD) and Austin Hooper ($2,000 DK, $5,100 FD). The apocalypse takes many forms.

During the regular season, the Patriots held opposing TEs to the eighth-fewest fantasy points in the league: 10.8 DK and 8.5 FD PPG.

Over the last two weeks, the Falcons have scored 80 points. During that time, Toilolo and Hooper combined for nine targets, six receptions, 64 yards, no TDs, and infinite sorrow.

Somehow, Martellus Bennett ($4,900 DK, $6,000 FD) is the slate’s most expensive TE. In case you forgot, #ProBowlTEs.

During the regular season, Bennett was actually more productive with tight end Rob Gronkowksi than without him . . .

Martellus-without Gronk

. . . and ironically Bennett hasn’t had more than five targets in a game since Week 10 — Gronk’s last full game.

Still, Bennett at least on average is a decent TE. Amazingly, this season as a receiver he was first on the Patriots in TDs (seven), second in yards (701), and third in targets (73) and receptions (55).

Bennett (knee) has been grinding through injuries for most of the season and is expected to play. At least he has a good matchup. The Falcons during the regular season allowed TEs to score the sixth-most fantasy points in the league: 15.3 DK and 12.2 FD PPG.

Martellus has three TDs over the last six games, so theoretically there’s hope that he won’t be awful.

Defense/Special Teams

I’m the last person who should be breaking down actual defenses.

Kickers

You probably can’t go wrong with either Matt Bryant ($5,100 FD) or Stephen Gostkowski ($4,900 FD). Of the two, I prefer Bryant. He’s on the higher-scoring offense, he’s attempted more FGs and XPs this season, he’s been much more prolific from 40 yards and beyond, he’s exhibited superior accuracy, and the Pats have allowed more FG attempts than the Falcons.

Plus, I think it’s likely that the Pats will be the more aggressive team, potentially forgoing FGs and XPs in favor of fourth-down and two-point conversion attempts. I could be wrong, but I don’t see Belichick settling for smaller denominations of points when he’s facing the league’s highest-scoring offense.

But if you’d rather save the $200 by rostering Gostkowski, that probably works too.

The Coda

Thanks for reading all (or maybe just some) of the NFL Breakdown pieces this season. Best of luck in this final slate, and we’ll see you next season!