We are just two weeks away from the end of the regular season, and the NFL is still on pace for a record-breaking campaign with an average of 23.4 points per game per team. But scoring has dropped precipitously as injuries have mounted, game tape has accumulated, weather conditions have worsened, pace of play has slowed and divisional opponents have rematched.
For example: In Weeks 10-12, NFL teams scored 24.3, 25.8 and 23.7 points per game. In Weeks 13-15, however, they managed just 21.4, 21.8 and 19.3 points, which are the three lowest-scoring weekly averages for the season. Year over year, scoring is up, but within 2018, we’ve seen a very notable downward trend.
Will scoring continue to decline in Week 16? Or will teams put up more points in the last “real” week of the NFL season?
The action continues with a 12-game main slate that kicks off on Sunday at 1 p.m. ET.
In this positional breakdown, I’m looking at four wide receivers at the top of the individual Pro Models that Jonathan Bales, Peter Jennings (CSURAM88), Adam Levitan, Sean Koerner, Chris Raybon, Kevin McClelland (SportsGeek) and I have constructed.
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Model Wide Receivers
- Adam Thielen: $7,800 DraftKings; $7,600 FanDuel
- Amari Cooper: $7,500 DraftKings; $7,000 FanDuel
- Robert Woods: $6,600 DraftKings; $7,500 FanDuel
- Chris Hogan: $3,300 DraftKings; $5,300 FanDuel
Adam Thielen: Minnesota Vikings (-6) vs. Detroit Lions, 43 Over/Under
Thielen is the only NFL player in history to open a season with eight consecutive 100-yard receiving games — and that’s a nice fact for the history books — but over the past two weeks he’s managed just 97 scoreless yards on nine targets and one carry.
Last week in particular he had by far his worst performance of the season, scoring just 2.9 FanDuel points with a 2-19-0 stat line on two targets as the team employed a run-heavy game plan that saw the Vikings rush the ball 40 times and attempt just 21 passes. Given that offensive coordinator John DeFilippo was fired after the team’s Week 14 loss for reportedly not calling enough running plays, it’s likely that interim offensive coordinator Kevin Stefanski’s Week 15 commitment to the running game will be more than a one-week state of affairs.
For a volume-dependent receiver like Thielen, the Vikings’ desire to run more is catastrophic.
Of course, it’s hard to be pessimistic about a guy who’s second in the league with 105 receptions, fourth with 143 targets, seventh with nine touchdowns receiving and eighth with 1,255 receiving yards. On top of that, there’s a difference between wanting to run the ball more and actually doing it.
Against the Lions, the Vikings might find themselves unmotivated to run the ball. Although the Lions were weak against the run to open the season, they have been much better on defense since trading for run-stuffing nose tackle Damon “Snacks” Harrison in Week 8.
- Lions defense with Harrison (Weeks 8-15): 21.9 points, 97.4 yards rushing
- Lions defense without Harrison (Weeks 1-7): 26.3 points, 139.3 yards rushing
Harrison (ankle) has missed practice this week and is questionable to play, so the Lions might be more vulnerable against the run than they have been recently, but the Vikings will still have plenty of reason to attack through the air: The Lions are dead last in the league with a 32.7% mark in Football Outsiders’ DVOA.
Needless to say, Thielen has a great matchup against the Lions. A masterful technician, Thielen has run 57.4% of his routes from the slot, where he leads the league with 82 targets and 64 receptions.
Historically, when the Vikings and Lions have faced each other, cornerback Darius Slay has shadowed wide receiver Stefon Diggs, and that’s likely what’s going to happen in this game, which means that Thielen will run most of his routes against cornerback Nevin Lawson, who has been the team’s primary Y defender since the Week 6 bye.
For the season, he has a poor 54.9 Pro Football Focus (PFF) coverage grade of 54.9, and in his eight games as the primary slot defender, Lawson has allowed a catch rate of 66.7%. He’s entirely exploitable. And on the outside, Thielen figures to run most of his routes against cornerback Mike Ford, an undrafted rookie who has just five games of NFL experience. He has an abominable 42.6 PFF coverage grade and has allowed an unfathomable 92.0% catch rate and 383 yards (along with a touchdown) on 25 targets.
With such an enticing matchup, Thielen is in a clear get-right spot, but he could have a reduced ownership rate because of his poor performance last week.
For tournaments, use our Lineup Builder to stack Thielen with quarterback Kirk Cousins. Since 2014, No. 1 wide receivers have had a 0.50 correlation with their quarterbacks. The sample is small, but Thielen and Cousins have a 0.62 correlation.
Thielen has a position-high 98% Bargain Rating on FanDuel, where he’s the No. 1 wide receiver in the Bales, CSURAM88, SportsGeek and Freedman Models.
Amari Cooper: Dallas Cowboys (-7) vs. Tampa Bay Buccaneers, 48 O/U
Since joining the Cowboys in their Week 8 bye, Cooper has helped transform the team’s passing game (per the RotoViz Team Splits App).
- Without Cooper (Weeks 1-7): 29.4 pass attempts, 18.3 completions, 202.4 passing yards
- With Cooper (Weeks 8-14): 36 pass attempts, 25.9 completions, 274.1 passing yards
Without Cooper, the Cowboys were 3-4. With him, they are 5-2 and slated to win the NFC East. He hasn’t singlehandedly changed the team, but his presence on the field enables the Cowboys to run a functional, balanced offense.
Of course, he’s coming off a disappointing game in which he scored just 6.3 FanDuel points with 43 scoreless yards on four receptions and one carry, but he’s in a great bounceback spot. The sample is small, but in his seven games with the Cowboys, Cooper has exhibited extreme home/road and favorite/underdog splits.
Amari Cooper’s per-game receiving numbers with Cowboys …
– At home: 132.5 yards, 1.5 touchdowns
– On road: 47.7 yards, 0 touchdowns
– As favorite: 151.7 yards, 2 touchdowns
– As underdog: 54.5 yards 0 touchdowns
He’s a home favorite this weekend.
— Matthew Freedman (@MattFtheOracle) December 22, 2018
Here’s what those numbers look like in terms of fantasy points and usage:
- At home (four games): 25.6 FanDuel points, 9.5 targets
- On road (three games): 8.1 FanDuel points, 7.3 targets
- As favorite (three games): 31 FanDuel points, 10 targets
- As dog (four games): 7.9 FanDuel points, 7.5 targets
While it would be foolhardy to expect Cooper to go off every time he’s at home or a favorite, these splits make sense within the context of the Cowboys: Throughout his career, quarterback Dak Prescott has also had significant splits, performing his absolute best as a home favorite.
NSFW: Cooper has a +22.02 Plus/Minus on FanDuel as a home favorite in Dallas. That’s straight up filthy.
Plus, Amari has a great matchup: The Bucs are 29th in pass defense (20.9% DVOA) and 30th in points allowed (28.8 per game).
Since they fired defensive coordinator Mike Smith, the Bucs have been better.
- Weeks 7-15: 22.6 points, 357 scrimmage yards
- Weeks 1-6: 28.2 points, 440 scrimmage yards
But they still aren’t good, and on the road, they’ve been horrible.
- On road (seven games): 28 points, 416.1 scrimmage yards
- At home (seven games): 21.1 points, 357.1 scrimmage yards
And the Bucs are incredibly injured.
Linebackers Kwon Alexander (knee), Jack Cichy (ankle) and Kendell Beckwith (ankle) are all on injured reserve. In the secondary, cornerback Vernon Hargreaves (shoulder, IR) is out, as are strong safety Chris Conte (knee, IR) and free safety Justin Evans (toe, IR).
Against such a defense, Cooper should dominate. The Bucs have allowed a top-eight mark of 31.9 FanDuel points per game to opposing wide receivers.
Cooper’s situation is not without a couple of red flags. Since Smith’s dismissal, the Bucs have been much better in pass defense.
- Weeks 7-15: 68.8% completion rate, 204.4 yards passing, 1.56 passing touchdowns, 0.78 interceptions
- Weeks 1-6: 76.8% completion rate, 355.8 yards passing, 3.2 passing touchdowns, 0.2 interceptions
Also, the Cowboys have an 18-28 over/under record with Prescott, gifting under bettors with a 17.3% return on investment since 2016 (per Bet Labs). Even if the Cowboys win, they still might not have a big game.
Even so, I like Cooper: He leads all wide receivers in our Models with his floor projections on DraftKings and FanDuel. It would be a surprise for him to have fewer than six targets. Cooper is easily one of the NFL’s 10 best overall wide receivers.
If you’re playing Cooper in a GPP, consider stacking him with Dak: They have had a 0.83 correlation through seven games.
On Sunday, I’ll probably look to bet the over on Cooper’s yardage prop. I don’t think it’s fair for CSURAM88 to be the only person who loses money backing Cooper.
To find the best bets in the props market, use our Player Props Tool, which is powered by our industry-leading projections. Since Week 1, the props with a bet quality of 10 have gone 214-100-12, good for a 66% win rate. Without question, you should supplement your DFS action with player props.
With a position-high projected Plus/Minus, Cooper is the No. 1 FanDuel receiver in the Levitan, Koerner and Raybon Models.
Robert Woods: Los Angeles Rams (-14) at Arizona Cardinals, 44 O/U
UPDATE (12/23): Running back Todd Gurley (knee) is a game-time decision after missing practice all week. The Rams reportedly would prefer to sit Gurley, who will test his knee in pre-game warmups.
On the Wednesday edition of The Action Network NFL Podcast, there was some mention of Woods as candidate for cash games this week: The Rams are top-two on the slate with an implied Vegas total of 29.5 points.
The Rams have lost two games in a row, scoring a combined total of 29 points over the past two weeks, and their offense has really struggled (especially in the passing game) since wide receiver Cooper Kupp (knee, IR) suffered a season-ending injury in Week 10.
- With Kupp (eight games): 33.4 points, 3.03 points per drive, 34.3 pass attempts, 23.8 completions, 329.6 passing yards, 2.12 passing touchdowns, 0.75 interceptions
- Without Kupp (six games): 30.2 points, 2.06 points per drive, 40.3 pass attempts, 23.7 completions, 275.8 passing yards, 1.67 passing touchdowns, 1.17 interceptions
With significantly more attempts, the Rams without Kupp have completed slightly fewer passes for way fewer yards and points.
But the Rams are still third in the league this season with 32.0 points per game, and the Cardinals are the dead last in The Action Network Power Rankings. Fighting for a first-round playoff bye, they should be highly motivated to put up points.
Although he underwhelmed for the first four seasons of his career, Woods has been a significant contributor to the team’s success since signing with the Rams last offseason, and this season he leads the team with 90 targets and 78 receptions and ranks a close second with 1,106 yards receiving and 1,348 air yards.
There’s nothing exceptional about Woods’ numbers, but he’s one of the most consistent receivers in the league: Only once this season has Woods not had at least 60 yards receiving in a game — and that was Week 1, when he still got nine targets and one carry.
With Kupp out, Woods has served as the team’s primary slot receiver, and that will likely continue this week. Over the past two season (including playoffs), he’s exhibited some notable Kupp-based splits.
- Kupp plays fewer than 60% of snaps (nine games): 16.9 DraftKings points per game, 39.7 snaps in slot, 24.3 snaps out wide, 8.8 targets, 5.7 receptions, 81.2 yards receiving, 0.22 touchdowns
- Kupp plays at least 60% of snaps (18 games): 15.9 DraftKings points per game, 16.6 snaps in slot, 38.2 snaps out wide, 7.8 targets, 5.1 receptions, 72.1 yards receiving, 0.44 touchdowns
In terms of production, Woods hasn’t done much more without Kupp than with him, but he’s been employed much more in the slot without Kupp, and where he lines up could matter this week.
For all their struggles, the Cardinals are 11th in pass defense (1.7% DVOA) and eighth specifically against No. 1 wide receivers (-7.3%) thanks primarily to shutdown cornerback Patrick Peterson, who has allowed a low 56.9% catch rate in his coverage.
The Cardinals have occasionally used Peterson in shadow coverage this season, and it’s possible that he could tail the small-and-speedy wide receiver Brandin Cooks, given that earlier this season he shadowed the comparable Stefon Diggs (Week 6), Marquise Goodwin (Week 8) and Tyreek Hill (Week 10).
And if Peterson doesn’t shadow Cooks, he’s likely to stay on the outside, perhaps exclusively at left corner: Peterson has lined up in the slot for just 12 snaps this season, and when the Cardinals faced the Rams in Week 2, he played 100% of his cornerback snaps lined up out wide on the left.
In either scenario, it’s highly likely that Woods will be able to avoid Peterson for the supermajority and maybe all but a few of his snaps. Instead, Woods will almost certainly run the bulk of his routes against second-year safety-turned-slot corner Budda Baker, who has allowed an 80.7% catch rate this season and in Week 2 allowed a 5-73-0 receiving line on five targets.
Woods is a member of one our top stacks this week and has a position-high eight Pro Trends on DraftKings, where he’s the No. 1 wide receiver in the Bales Model.
For more on his general thoughts on the slate, see Bales’ strategy-focused conversation with CSURAM88.
Chris Hogan: New England Patriots (-13.5) vs. Buffalo Bills, 44.5 O/U
Hogan is available at a steep discount because of the midweek suspension of Patriots wide receiver Josh Gordon (substance abuse). If you’re looking for a punt play at the position, Hogan is probably your guy.
We’re dealing with a small sample, so we shouldn’t put too much stock in Hogan’s actual production with and without Gordon, but his per-game usage splits are instructive.
- Without Gordon (three games): 9.1 DraftKings points, 92.7% snap rate, 34.3 routes, 4.7 targets, 2.3 receptions
- With Gordon (11 games): 6.0 DraftKings points, 72.6% snap rate, 30.6 routes, 2.7 targets, two receptions
With Gordon no longer on the field, Hogan is highly likely to play more snaps, run more routes and see more targets.
Of course, even with his increased usage, Hogan has a painfully wide range of outcomes. In Week 5 last season, he had an 8-74-1 performance on 11 targets against the Bucs. The next week, he had a 1-19-0 travesty on four targets against the Jets. Hogan is a classic Jekyll-and-Hyde player, and it’s almost impossible to know in any given week which version of the receiver will show up.
What is known is that he doesn’t have a good matchup this week. The Bills rank fourth in pass defense (-9.4% DVOA), and as the team’s primary big-bodied perimeter receiver, Hogan could see a lot of Bills cornerback Tre’Davious White, whom the team has periodically used in shadow coverage.
Although White and the Bills haven’t done well over the past two weeks against tall receivers with downfield athleticism …
- Robby Anderson (Week 14): 22.6 DraftKings points, 7-96-1 on 11 targets
- Kenny Golladay (Week 15): 24.6 DraftKings points, 7-146-0 on eight targets
… White for his career has allowed a catch rate of just 52.3%, and as a rookie last season he was one of PFF’s top corners with a coverage grade of 90.1. White is no pushover.
But Hogan has the potential to do what Anderson and Golladay have recently done. You probably don’t need me to remind you of the 42 DraftKings points he hung on the Steelers two years ago in the AFC Championship with his 9-180-2 receiving masterpiece on 12 targets.
With a top-two projected Plus/Minus, Hogan has never been cheaper this season on DraftKings, where he’s the No. 1 wide receiver in the CSURAM88, Levitan, Koerner, Raybon, SportsGeek and Freedman Models.
Week 16 Positional Breakdowns
Be sure to read the other Week 16 positional breakdowns.
For more in-depth NFL analysis information, check out The Action Network.
Pictured above: Los Angeles Rams wide receiver Robert Woods (17)
Photo credit: Steven Bisig-USA TODAY Sports