🔑 KEY Divisional Round Mismatches

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Me at 5:00 pm today: Ladies and gentlemen, the weekend…

In today’s Fantasy Life Newsletter sponsored by Fantasy Life on YouTube:

  • Two BIG mismatches to watch for this weekend

  • Fantasy Questions: Could Devin Singletary be in for a big workload?

  • Ravens TE Mark Andrews (ankle) questionable for Saturday

  • Best Bets: America loves a comeback (looking at you, Jayden Reed)

  • It’s 1/19. Take it away, Ian Hartitz…

The remaining eight playoff teams are obviously all very good at football – that’s why they are still playing, after all – but at the same time, none should be considered great in every facet of the game.

Here are two key mismatches to keep an eye out for during this weekend’s action.

🦁 Aidan Hutchinson and the Lions front-seven over the Bucs run game

Tampa Bay boasts the slate’s worst matchup in both combined explosive run play rate and rush yards before contact. It’s truly a matchup between an immovable object and a stoppable force:

  • EPA per rush: Bucs offense (-0.161, No. 28); Lions defense (-0.115, No. 11)

  • Yards per carry: Bucs (3.3, No. 31); Lions (3.7, No. 3)

  • Rush yards per game: Bucs (90.4, No. 31); Lions (87.6 (No. 2)

The Bucs seemed to realize this issue back in Week 6, as Rachaad White handled a season-low seven carries, and the offense posted a season-high +11% dropback rate over expected.

It makes sense that one of Betting Life’s analysts, Geoff Ulrich’s, best bets are instead looking at White’s receiving upside.

💪 Mike Evans vs. the entire city of Detroit

Okay, fine, mostly just their cornerbacks.

Don’t get it twisted: Evans’ 6-foot-5, 231-pound frame makes him a nightmare matchup against pretty much any mere mortal – but things look like they could be especially tough for a Lions secondary that allowed the third-most PPR points per game to opposing WRs this season.

Shoutout to rookie Brian Branch for largely playing great this season. Otherwise, nearly every Lions corner to play 100-plus snaps has been a combination of undersized and bad.

  • Brian Branch (6’0”, 190 pounds): 77.5 PFF coverage grade (23rd among 150 qualified corners)

  • Kindle Vildor (5’10”, 191): 60 (98th)

  • Jerry Jacobs (5’10”, 208): 54.5 (118th)

  • Cameron Sutton (5’11”, 188): 53.9 (122nd)

  • Will Harris (6’1”, 207): 41.4 (146th)

Credit to safeties Ifeatu Melifonwu and C.J. Gardner-Johnson for consistently supplying a solid backbone to the secondary; just realize, this should be the sort of spot where Evans is capable of going nuclear.

Friendly reminder that his 4-49-0 receiving line against this group back in Week 6 was only as small as it was because the Lions managed to get a well-timed pass deflection on a deep ball that sure looked to be going for a 92-yard blown-coverage-induced TD.

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Fantasy Life Fantasy Questions Divisional Round Weekend!

This is maybe the best weekend of professional football all season. If there was ever a time to ignore real-life responsibilities with wreckless abandon: This is it, people.

Just kidding. Kind of. Anyways, it’s Friday, which means Ian is once again back with his biggest questions (and answers) ahead of this weekend’s action.

🤔 Are there ANY weaknesses here for C.J. Stroud and company to exploit?

Simply put, this Ravens defense is scary good.

Ranking first in points per game allowed, second in EPA allowed per play and third in yards allowed per play, there’s a reason why defensive coordinator Mike MacDonald is one of the hottest head coaching names out there at the moment.

This begs the question: What is it that makes this group so dominant?

A few higher-level observations on anyone’s idea of one of the league’s very best defensive units (special thanks to PFF and Tru Media):

  • The Ravens are one of just five defenses to play nickel on 80% of their opponent's snaps, yet have featured eight-plus defenders in the box just 13.1% of the time.

  • Their biggest coverage tendency is Cover-6 (16.3%, 4th), but even that's a combo coverage featuring Cover-2 on one side of the field and Cover-4 on the other. Generally, this group mixes things up quite a bit: This was a top-five defense in utilizing some sort of pre-to-post snap disguise with their middle-of-the-field safeties.

  • They also run plenty of Cover-0 (6%, 6th) to force offenses to account for their robust blitz packages. While the Ravens surprisingly only blitzed at the league's 19th-highest rate (27.5%) on pass plays this season, they ran simulated pressures (4-man rush blitzes) at the league's fifth-highest rate (27.6%).

The Ravens combine the league’s lightest boxes with plenty of coverage disguise and complex blitz packages to create negative plays AND prevent big ones better than just about anyone out there.

Kudos to Matthew Stafford for putting on one helluva display back in Week 14 against this group, but otherwise, passing attacks of all shapes and sizes have largely been shut down. This included Stroud during his NFL debut, as the Ravens held him to his second-worst marks of the season in essentially any efficiency metric.

Stroud, Nico Collins, and company aren’t the same offense that they were back in early September – and they also just got done largely eviscerating a Browns defense that also ranks highly in many of these same defensive metrics.

That said, it’s worth wondering if Houston’s best path to success might just be attempting to exploit what’s been a fairly leaky run defense.

Fantasy Life Fantasy Questions Divisional Round Weekend!

Don’t get it twisted: It’s not a coincidence that most of the league’s best overall defenses are also much better against the pass than the run. It is 2024, after all (still feels weird to type that).

Still, virtually the only sustained offensive success against the Ravens has come on the ground:

  • EPA allowed per run play: -0.99 (12th)

  • Yards allowed per carry: 4.5 (tied for 24th)

  • Yards allowed before contact per carry: 1.2 (14th)

  • Yards allowed after contact per carry: 3 (28th)

  • Explosive run play rate allowed: 14.1% (27th)

The Texans haven't posted a positive dropback over expected rate for seven consecutive games, leading to Devin Singletary being a bonafide workhorse on his way to racking up 1,091 total yards and four TDs during the regular season alone.

Around the Watercooler (August 2022)

🚀 Missing out on a long TD last week only means one thing. He’s primed to bounce back this week.

🐻 The Bears interviewed someone with VERY close ties to the potential No. 1 overall pick. Probably not a coincidence!

📺 Can Jordan Love orchestrate another upset? Will C.J. Stroud continue to make history? Everything you need for the Divisional Round.

🔥 A rematch of one of the wildest playoff endings in recent memory? Sign us up.

👀 Bill Belichick’s landing spot betting odds suddenly have a heavy favorite. This could be fun!

💰 Just how different is Divisional Round betting? Let’s dive in.

🙏 Some key Ravens are hurt, dog. Please help, Injury Gods.

✍️ One last full DFS slate of the season. Picks and pivots to vault you to the top.

🤓 Wondering what teams had the worst total impact from drops this season? Cool stuff here.

Fantasy Life Best Bets

Nothing beats watching a football game with a buddy, a beer and a best bet simply too good to lose.

Okay fine: Geoff hasn’t hit 100% of his bets this year, but the Betting Life team is indeed up +13 units in the last 30 days. Pretty, pretty, pretty good — so why not hear what the man has to say ahead of the Divisional Round?

  • Play to: 43 (-110, unless the weather improves)

I bet this total in our FREE bet tracker at the beginning of the week. It’s moved nearly three points since then (46 to 43.5), but I would still lean towards the under at this number. 

Let’s start with the weather in Baltimore this Saturday: A high of 25 degrees and a low of 16, plus winds in the 15-20 mph range. That’s not great. As noted in our Divisional Round Betting Life newsletter, outdoor unders have been money in the playoffs, and last week two of the three outdoor games went well under their totals (and the one that didn’t, Steelers-Bills, got moved into more favorable weather conditions late in the week). 

Then there are the trends. Houston is a solid 11-7 to unders on the year (5-3 on the road), and their defense, which got healthy around Week 17, has allowed an average of 14 points per game over the last three weeks. 

As good as C.J. Stroud has been this year, his outdoor splits have been rough (7 AY/A outdoors) compared to his indoor ones. While the forecast is worth watching, I’d still be inclined to play this under at its current number unless something drastically changes with the weather.

Fantasy Life Best Bets

I love this as a buy-low spot on Jayden Reed.

He’s coming off a slow game (3 targets, 0 catches), so naturally, there will be a lull in his overall sentiment, and that’s already been reflected in his props, where his yardage total is at its lowest point in multiple weeks. 

Despite the goose egg against Dallas, Reed has been a very consistent performer for the Packers down the stretch. The rookie averaged 84 yards over his last three games of the regular season, which included a 112-yard effort against the notoriously tough secondary of the Bears. The matchup this week also looks better for Reed. The 49ers secondary isn’t as good at guarding against the slot as the Cowboys is/was (Dallas allowed the third-fewest PPR points per game to slot receivers this year), and names like Christian Kirk were able to come through with big weeks against this unit. 

I think there’s a chance the Packers rely on Reed’s after-the-catch ability against a tough pass rush a lot more this week. We could certainly also bet his alternate lines or TD props (see below) in this spot, but the over on his suppressed yardage prop is, without a doubt, the best starting point for any Reed action in this game.

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