This article is part of our Monday Night DFS Breakdown series.
Clearly, the NFL schedule makers had a lot of faith in Jon Gruden as they scheduled his Oakland Raiders to host the final Monday Night Football game of the 2018 NFL season. The Raiders will be playing the Denver Broncos on Christmas Eve who, after winning three straight games coming out of their Week 10 bye, dropped two winnable games against San Francisco and Cleveland and have been eliminated from playoff contention. As a result, we will close another forgettable year of Monday Night Football (save for Chiefs/Rams and maybe Steelers/Bucs) with a matchup of non-contending AFC West teams.
The Broncos are 3-point road favorites with the over/under set at 43. The Broncos have an implied total of 23 to the Raiders' 20. Both the Broncos (23.1%) and the Raiders (46.2%) have hit the over in less than 50% of their games this season. If we believe in that trend, we might be in for a game that's more along the lines of 17-13 than 23-20.
There is supposed to be rain in Oakland on Monday night. There isn't supposed to be much wind and the temperatures should be in the mid-to-low 50s. The rain is not supposed to be significant and I don't expect the weather to have a material impact on in-game performance.
The Raiders could be without two defensive starters with DT Maurice Hurst and CB Daryl Worley each missing Thursday and Friday practices, and Hurst also missing Saturday's session while Worley returned to a limited amount of participation. On top of that the other starting, CB Gareon Conley, is still in concussion protocol. This is a Raiders defense that's struggled most of the year could look even worse Monday night.
There are no new major injuries for the Broncos. Instead, they might be getting some help back on the defensive side of the ball with linebacker Shaq Barrett scheduled to rejoin the lineup.
For as much as the Raiders have been a bit of a joke this year, Derek Carr has played pretty well. He hasn't thrown an interception since Week 5 and has multiple touchdown passes in three of his last five games. This week he'll play a Broncos defense that has given up 20-plus FanDuel points in four of its last seven games. One of the three non-20 point games was a 19.28-point performance by Nick Mullens. This Broncos defense is not the defense that carried Peyton Manning to a Super Bowl three years ago. Their star cornerback, Chris Harris Jr., went down with a broken leg Week 13 and the Broncos have lost both games since. They are 20th on the season in FanDuel points allowed to the quarterback position, but 14th in the past four weeks. This trend bodes well for Carr. Also, Carr's four biggest fantasy performances this year have been at home, which is where the Raiders will be Monday night. I like Carr to put up numbers in what might be the last home football game in Oakland for this Raiders franchise.
For the Broncos, Case Keenum hasn't topped 20 FanDuel points since Week 6. He's only thrown multiple touchdowns once since the Broncos' Week 10 bye including two games with no touchdown passes. The Raiders have the reputation of being a cure for whatever is ailing your offense, but the Raiders have been a little stingier to quarterbacks lately. Outside of Patrick Mahomes' 30+ FanDuel point performance, the Raiders have held QBs under 20 FanDuel points three of their last four games. Case Keenum's weapons have changed drastically since the beginning of the season with DeMaryius Thomas now in Houston and Emmanuel Sanders on IR. Between Keenum's poor performances recently, the quality/youth of his weapons and the potential letdown from a team just eliminated from playoff contention, I'm hesitant to include Keenum in my lineups.
Doug Martin has been the Raiders' go-to running back since the Raiders' Week 7 bye. He hasn't topped 100 total yards once this season. He had scored a touchdown three straight weeks until last week. So, even though he hasn't been efficient with the yardage on his touches, he's been given a decent amount of scoring opportunities. Can we see Doug Martin getting in the end zone this week? The Broncos haven't given up a touchdown to a running back since Week 8 and haven't given up a rushing score to running back since Week 6. Nick Chubb's 100 yards last week were the first time a running back has reached the century mark against the Broncos since Todd Gurley did it in Week 6. So even though the Broncos' defense hasn't lived up to its mid-2010s reputation, playing Martin is not something I'm inclined to do.
Jalen Richard is my preferred Raiders running back choice in this game. Richard had the same amount of offensive snaps as Martin in Week 14 and three more than Martin in Week 15. Richard has had nine touches each of the last three weeks. He's getting more involved in the offense. The Broncos are a good team for a secondary running back with receiving skills to get some opportunities. Duke Johnson had eight touches for 53 yards last week, including those four receptions. Gio Bernard had 11 touches (six catches) for 48 yards in Week 13. Austin Ekeler had eight touches for 69 yards in Week 11. Running backs can attack the Broncos through the receiving game. Martin has only caught two passes total in the past three weeks so this sets up more like a Richard game than a Martin game.
For the Broncos, Pro Bowler Phillip Lindsay leads their backfield. Lindsay is only nine yards away from a 1,000-yard season. I fully expect him to hit that mark this week (bold, I know). Lindsay has 28 carries for 54 yards over the last two weeks. He's somewhat made up the difference in the passing game where he's had four catches in each those those games, but he was held to 20 and 21 yards, respectively.
He salvaged his Week 14 performance with a touchdown, but wasn't so lucky in Week 15. Luckily, the Raiders defense is not a stout unit. Joe Mixon just lit up the Raiders for 130 yards and two touchdowns. Jaylen Samuels put up 92 yards the week prior with seven catches. In fact, the Raiders have given up double-digit FanDuel points to a running back every week since Week 4. Lindsay should be in a prime position to put a big game on the heels of his selection to the Pro Bowl earlier this week.
Royce Freeman and Devontae Booker have combined for about 40% of the snaps the last two weeks. They combined for 25 yards last week and 47 the week before. I don't see any reason to roster either of these players this week.
Jordy Nelson has been the most targeted wide receiver for the Raiders over the last three weeks, averaging nearly nine targets per game. Now he gets to face a beat up Broncos secondary. However, wide receivers haven't done much damage to the Broncos over the last three weeks. In Week 13, Tyler Boyd went for 97 yards on six catches. The next highest yardage total in that three-week timeframe is Dante Pettis' 49 yards in Week 14. Wide receivers have been able to score (at least one wide receiver touchdown each of the last three weeks including two last week) so maybe this is the week Jordy gets in the end zone. I like the idea of pairing Carr with Jordy and banking on Jordy turning his recent opportunity uptick into a touchdown this week.
Seth Roberts has been the second most targeted receiver over the last three weeks, averaging just fewer than six targets per game. Roberts plays about 80% of the snaps, and for approximately 80% of those snaps, he's lined up in the slot. It's tough to figure out which cornerback Roberts will be matched up against since the Broncos have done a lot of slot corner shuffling following the Harris injury. Justin Simmons has seen some time there, Bradley Roby has seen some time there, as has Isaac Yiadom. Because of that it's hard to project a plus matchup, although no matter who plays it's a better matchup than going up against Harris. The first time these teams met, Roberts had three catches for 43 yards and a touchdown. His involvement isn't much greater now than it was then. I expect a similar line from Roberts and his performance depends on whether or not he gets in the end zone.
Marcell Ateman is the final receiver worth considering from the Raiders with five, four and four targets of the last three games. He got in the end zone three weeks ago but hasn't done much outside of that. He's most likely fifth in the pecking order for targets behind Nelson, Roberts, Richard, and Jared Cook, but the Raiders have him on the field for more than 80% of the offensive snaps, so there's always the opportunity he makes a play but with no more than 50 yards in a game this season, no more than four catches this season and Nelson becoming a bigger factor in the passing game recently, I'll be passing on Ateman.
The Broncos have three wide receivers that are worth considering. My number one target for this week is DaeSean Hamilton. Slot receivers are doing well against the Raiders recently and Hamilton plays out of the slot more than any other Broncos receiver. Hamilton also has 21 targets over the last two games. He played 100% of the snaps last week and 97% of the snaps the week before. He's become a major part of the offense, absorbing the snaps of Emmanuel Sanders. The Raiders' defense isn't as bad as some have made it out to be, but slot receivers (Tyler Boyd, and JuJu Smith-Schuster in Weeks 15 and 14) have had success and I expect that to continue with Hamilton this week.
Tim Patrick has been the second most targeted receiver over the last two weeks with 18 total targets with 87 and 72 percent snap shares during that time. He's yet to see a red-zone target this season, which is odd considering he's the Broncos tallest wide receiver at 6-foot-4. The Raiders haven't been that generous to outside receivers so from that perspective it's tough to love Patrick this week, but the surge in targets makes him viable. In a single-game slate where you need someone who can make a game-breaking play, Patrick seems most likely of all Denver pass catchers to do it.
The trade of Thomas and the injury to Sanders was supposed to catapult Courtland Sutton to fantasy stardom. Instead, Sutton has kept the role he had most of the season with Patrick playing in Thomas' role and Hamilton playing as Sanders. Sutton has been fourth in targets each of the last two weeks. He's been held to fewer than 50 yards receiving three of the last four weeks. We've seen glimpses of Sutton's second-round talent this year, but this Broncos team with this quarterback situation may not be the right environment to see Sutton reach his full potential. I'm happy to fade him this week as the opportunities seem to be going to several other players before Sutton.
The Broncos are the team that George Kittle had a monster game against in Week 14. Kittle's seven catches for 210 yards and a touchdown carried many season-long and DFS lineups that week. This week, that Broncos defense will face Jared Cook who is having the best season of his career. Cook hasn't had less than five targets since Week 9, while he has topped 100 yards in two of his last three games, and he has six touchdowns on the year. All four of his 100-yard games this season have been at home. The Broncos haven't been able to stop the better tight ends they've faced this season. Kittle, Travis Kelce (twice), and Antonio Gates have all gone for at least 70 yards and a score against them. I expect Cook to keep that trend going this week as the most valuable pass catcher in this game.
Matt LaCosse has been the tight end to own since Jeff Heuerman was lost for the season. There was some excitement from the fantasy community for LaCosse once Heuerman went down but he's mostly been a disappointment. He hasn't topped 50 yards this year, only has one touchdown, and in two of the last three weeks, he only has one target. Outside of Kelce and Kittle (and one big play to Mark Andrews in Week 12) the Raiders have limited individual opposing tight ends to no more than 40 yards over the past seven weeks. Playing LaCosse is strictly a contrarian play this week. Three catches for 40 yards seems like his realistic ceiling.
Earlier this year, Scott Barrett of ProFootballFocus did a study on what metrics actually matter when trying to predict kicker performance. The conclusion of the article was that it's random for the most part. But, if you had wanted to rely on SOMETHING, your best option is a kicker who is a home favorite with a high implied Vegas team total. In this game, the road team is the favorite and both teams have low implied totals. Those aren't the best circumstances for rostering a kicker. The Raiders have given up double-digit fantasy points to kickers three of the last four weeks and Brandon McManus is coming off a three-FG performance.
If I'm playing a kicker in this game, it's Daniel Carlson. First, he's scored over 10 fantasy points in three of the last five games. Second, the Raiders have the fifth worst percentage of drives that end in a touchdown, but the 14th highest percentage of drives that end in a field goal. The Broncos' defense is the ninth stingiest defense in terms of percentage of drives they give up a touchdown, but they are they are the 10th-friendliest defense in percentage of drives they give up a field goal.
The Broncos haven't given up a double-digit game to a fantasy defense all year. The Raiders are last in sacks, 19th in interceptions and last in points allowed per game. Even though the Broncos' offense has stalled a bit lately, they still aren't turning the ball over, which is what you would need an offense to do in order for the fantasy defense to score points.
The Broncos' defense has had multiple sacks in every game since Week 5 and at least one interception every week since their bye in Week 10. They've also recovered at least one fumble in three of their last four games. The Raiders have given up at least three sacks every week since Week 9 and have given away a fumble in each of their last four games. So, even though Derek Carr isn't throwing interceptions, the Denver defense could still make some plays.
I'm not an expert on how television contracts work, but at some point the NFL has to figure out a way to get better Monday Night Football games on the schedule, especially later in the year. With so many games this weekend having major playoff implications it's a shame we get stuck with two non-playoff teams for the last Monday Night Football game of the year. Fortunately, we still get to fire up a couple of lineups and get a good DFS sweat. I look forward to Daniel Carlson helping someone hit a four-figure score. Enjoy!