Thursday Night Football Preview: Giants at Eagles

I guess somebody has to win the NFC East this season. Despite the New York Giants and Philadelphia Eagles both having one victory entering week 7 of the NFL season, these teams are one game or less behind the division-leading Dallas Cowboys (2-4). The winner of this TNF matchup may take over as the division lead going into next week. The top fantasy performers in this game are likely to have been undrafted at the start of the fantasy football season. No Saquon Barkley. No Sterling Shepard. No Miles Sanders. No Zach Ertz. No Dallas Goedert. No DeSean Jackson. No Jalen Reagor. Potential top fantasy-relevant players in this game include Devonta Freeman (a late free-agent signing during the season), Boston Scott (18 yards from scrimmage since Week 3), and Travis Fulgham (a practice squad wide receiver only known by dynasty league players entering this season).

– THURSDAY NIGHT FOOTBALL PREVIEW –

New York Giants (1-5) at Philadelphia Eagles (1-4-1)

Spread: Eagles -4.5 | Over/Under 43.5

Vegas Odds

The New York Giants are 1-6 straight up in their last 7 games and 0-7 in their last 7 games against the Philadelphia Eagles. Despite not winning any of the last 7 games against the Eagles, the Giants are 4-2 ATS in their last 6 games against the Eagles. The Birds enter this contest as 4.5 point favorites at home according to the NFL odds at SportsBettingDime.com. The Giants are 6-0 ATS in their last 6 games on the road. The total has gone UNDER in 4 of the Giants’ last 6 games. However, the total has gone OVER in 7 of the Giants’ last 10 games against NFC East opponents.

The Philadelphia Eagles are 2-5 ATS in their last 7 games but are 11-5 ATS in their last 16 games played in October. The total has gone OVER in 4 of the Eagles’ last 6 games. The total has gone OVER in 7 of the Eagles’ last 9 games against the New York Giants. The total has gone UNDER in 8 of the Eagles’ last 10 home games. The Eagles are 4-1 straight up in their last 5 games against NFC East opponents.

Quarterbacks

Over the past three weeks, Daniel Jones and the New York Giants passing offense has targeted the running back and tight positions above the NFL average, while targeting the wide receiver position just under the NFL average. The Giants passing offense hasn’t had much success with pass plays over this time though. The 55-percent success rate targeting the tight end position (No. 15) is the most success they have had according to SharpFootballStats. The average yards per pass attempt to each skill position is bottom-quarter in the league.

Carson Wentz has been bad this season, but an injured receiving core (again) along with a depleted offensive line is the primary culprit for his struggles. Daniel Jones is just bad. He is receiving help from his offensive line; his protection rate of 88.5-percent is No. 11 in the NFL and that allows him to complete an impressive 80.3-percent of his passes when he has a clean pocket. However, when the pressure gets to him he crumbles. His pressured completion of 26.2-percent is No. 30 and he somehow has thrown for two total touchdown passes in five games this season. Daniel Jones has one more touchdown than Jalen Hurts since week 1. This stretch included a four-game stretch from Weeks 2-5 where he threw at least 32 passes in the games and still failed to find the endzone. Oh, and he’s had plenty of perfect opportunities to throw touchdowns. His 31 red zone attempts are No. 3 in the league. He just can’t throw accurately, evidenced by his 45.2-percent red zone completion percentage (No. 37).

Carson Wentz and the Philadelphia Eagles passing offense has contradicting trends over the past three weeks. The Eagles are No. 9 in pass success rate (60-percent) to the wide receiver position and No. 11 in yards per pass attempt to wide receivers (9.0). However, the Eagles are below average in their target rate to wide receivers (55-percent, 13th-lowest in the NFL). The Eagles have continued to funnel passes to Zach Ertz and the tight end position (30-percent, 8th-highest target rate) with abysmal results. The 43-percent success rate on passes to tight ends is No. 23 and the 4.5 yards per pass attempt to tight ends is No. 30. No Ertz may be a good thing for Wentz fantasy owners because Richard Rodgers is unlikely to command the target share that Ertz did, which will force Wentz to look at other (better) skill positions to throw the ball to.

Coincidentally the New York Giants pass defense forces opposing offenses to funnel targets to the wide receiver position. Over the past three weeks, the Giants have allowed a 74-percent target rate to the wide receiver position, which is No. 1 in the NFL. Carson Wentz has struggled this season with a depleted supporting cast on offense. He struggles under pressure (33.9-percent, No. 22) and struggles when the pocket is clean (72.2-percent, No. 23). He can’t complete on play-action (60.7-percent, No. 29) or deliver the deep ball (No. 24). He is also credited with the second-most interceptable passes (15) according to PlayerProfiler. The matchup with the Giants is not an ideal matchup for Wentz, who has thrown multiple interceptions in all but one game this season. The Giants have the ninth-highest pressure % (23.9) in the NFL according to ProFootballReference.

Running Backs

Since Saquon Barkley tore his ACL back in week 2 the New York Giants have implemented an ugly three-headed RBBC of former free agent Devonta Freeman, pass-catching specialist Dion Lewis, and JAG Wayne Gallman. Last week offered clarity to this situation as Gallman played 4 snaps and Freeman was on the field for 73-percent of the snaps. For fantasy purposes, ignore Dion Lewis. In the past two weeks, he has combined for zero. Freeman has finished with 19 touches in each of the past two games and has run more routes than Lewis too. Don’t expect much passing game involvement from Freeman. His 35.6-percent route participation is No. 36 among running backs. On top of that, the Eagles pass defense is top-10 in both pass success rate to running backs (36-percent) and yards per pass attempt to running backs (4.8). The Giants offense line (32nd ranked DVOA) is vastly outclassed by the Eagles defensive line (4th ranked DVOA). Freeman is a touchdown or bust running back option this week. Freeman is a low-end RB2 option this week.

No Miles Sanders this week. In his place is an RBBC led by Boston Scott this week. Scott has combined for 18 yards from scrimmage over the last four weeks, but before that had 97 yards on 18 touches in weeks 1 and 2. With a lack of healthy playmakers, Scott is positioned well this week to be feature heavily in the passing game where he excelled at the end of last season. To remind those that have forgotten, Scott had TWO top-5 performances during a four-week stretch from weeks 14 to 17. During those four games, he only exceeded 50-percent snap share once and saw at least six targets in each of those games. By the way, those two top-5 performances? 10 carries and 6 catches for 128 yards and 1 TD in Week 14. 19 carries and 4 catches for 138 yards and 3 TDs in Week 17. The opponents? New York Giants in Week 14 and…the New York Giants in Week 17.

Wide Receivers

Darius SlaytonIn Week 5, Darius Slayton went up against Daryl Worley and the Dallas Cowboys defense and he finished with 8 catches (11 targets) for 129 yards. The 20.9 PPR points he scored were No. 12 among wide receivers and it included 145 air yards, a season-best. The reason this is notable is that Worley and Nickell Robey-Coleman, Slayton’s primary coverage this week, are carbon copies according to PFF. Their grades (Worley: 54.1, Robey-Coleman: 52.8), fantasy points per route (0.27, 0.27), and (1.26, 1.20) are close to each other. This week the Giants are down to three healthy receivers with C.J. Board suffering a scary injury last week and Sterling Shepard still recovering from his injury. With a lack of receiving competition and Golden Tate looking washed this season (148 air yards this season, No. 94), Slayton is the only wide receiver on the Giants to even consider starting this week.

Talk about coming out of nowhere. The Philadelphia Eagles’ entire receiving core has been devastated by injuries and out of the ashes of dead (injured) receivers emerges the beautiful phoenix, Travis Fulgham. 23 targets over the past two weeks have allowed Fulgham the volume to produce back-to-back top-10 wide receiver weekly performances. He has exceeded 100 air yards in both games and scored a touchdown in each game. It’s a small sample size, but Fulgham isn’t a fluke. He’s PFF’s highest-graded wide receiver this season and his 2.99 yards per route run is No. 2 among wide receivers. His primary coverage will be by James Bradberry, an underrated cornerback. Bradberry is PFF’s 5th-highest-graded cornerback this season. He has impressed in performances against alpha receivers Allen Robinson, Robert Woods, and Amari Cooper this season. Fulgham will have his hands full but has produced against good cornerbacks in Joe Haden and Jimmy Smith. Due to a lack of receiving options (I’m pretty certain JJ Arcega-Whiteside has been put on the field despite not having a pulse), Fulgham will continue to command a large target share making him startable this week.

Tight Ends

The Philadelphia Eagles pass defense is the 2020 version of the Arizona Cardinals pass defense. Last season the Cardinals allowed 60 more fantasy points to tight ends than the second-worst defense against tight ends. This season, the Eagles have allowed the fourth-most fantasy points to tight ends. However, the past three weeks have been even worse. The Eagles have allowed a target rate of 29-percent to tight ends (NFL average is 20-percent). On top of that, the Eagles are bottom-5 in both success rate on pass plays to tight ends (69-percent) and yards per pass attempt to tight ends (9.8). To summarize, opposing offenses are heavily targeting tight ends against the Eagles and the Eagles are unable to do anything about it. Evan Engram has had a rough season post-Lisfranc surgery, but if ever there was a week to start him to get a TE1 performance out of him it’s this week.

Over the past two weeks, only two defenses have allowed a lower target rate to the tight end position than the New York Giants. Last week, Richard Rodgers got extended playing time with Zach Ertz suffering an injury. Rodgers had played a third of the snaps for the Eagles in weeks 3, 4, and 5 before seeing his snap snare spike to two-thirds last week. Despite the increase in playing time, Rodgers’ routes run did not spike. Coming into the game, Rodgers had averaged just under 17 routes run per game. He ran 18 routes last week in an extended run. Rodgers, and his lack of athleticism, is a low YPR option in the passing game. You’re not starting him in fantasy football despite him getting the start this week.

Defense/Special Teams

The Philadelphia Eagles defense has allowed an average of 229.7 passing yards per game (12th-fewest) and an average of 125.5 rushing yards per game (12thmost). The Eagles have allowed the 10th-most points per game (29.2). The Eagles’ return game is one of the worst in the league. The Eagles average the sixth-fewest kick return yards per return (18.6) and seventh-fewest punt return yards per return (4.5). When looking at DVOA, the Eagles defense is below average (No. 19) with a glaring weakness in their pass defense (No. 27). Their rush defense is No. 12 in the league. The Eagles have a below-average special teams unit (No. 18 DVOA) that also supports the struggles they’ve had in the kick and punt return games. The Eagles have forced the sixth-fewest turnovers (5), but have recorded the fourth-most amount of sacks in the NFL (21).

The New York Giants defense has allowed an average of 235.5 passing yards per game (16th-fewest) and an average of 106.5 rushing yards per game (8th-fewest). The Giants have allowed the 17th-most points per game (25.3). The Giants have an above-average return game. They average the 13th-fewest kick return yards per return (20.1) but do average the seventh-most punt return yards per return (11.4). The Giants DVOA defense is average (No. 17). They struggle in pass defense (No. 23) and remain middle of the pack in rush defense (No. 15). As a unit, the Giants have one of the top DVOA special teams (No. 6), led by their field goal kicking unit (No. 4) and their punt return unit (No. 6). The Giants have forced the 13th-most turnovers (8) and the 10th-most amount of sacks in the NFL (15).

Final Thoughts

Both of these NFL teams struggle in the turnover department. They are top-4 in the NFL in giveaways (22 total). The Philadelphia Eagles suffer greatly in turnover differential (-7), while the New York Giants are also negative in turnover differential (-2). The Eagles also commit more penalties than the Giants. Two ugly offenses going against each other will make this a defensive struggle. The Eagles have the better offense, but I give the advantage to the Giants in defense, special teams, turnovers, and penalties. There’s no way I’m taking the Eagles as a Vegas favorite and I believe the Giants will win straight up. Sloppy offenses will see a handful of drives end in turnovers. If Wentz has another game with multiple turnovers, look for Jalen Hurts to have his first chance to lead the Eagles. Giants 23-14.

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