I can’t believe it. This is the LAST Thursday Night Football Preview article of the 2020 season! Hard to believe how fast this season has gone. I’ve had a blast with my late nights researching and preparing these articles each week. Special thanks to Mike Rigz for letting me cover TNF this year. I’ve had fun this season and this series has grown on me each week. Now to the normal TNF Preview content!
The Thursday Night Football finale is a matchup between two recently relocated AFC West rivals when the Los Angeles Chargers travel 270 miles to play the Las Vegas Raiders. Playing in a dome stadium and the highest Vegas total on the Week 15 slate means we should be in for a game filled with offense. It may be difficult to top the classic that was witnessed on Monday between the Baltimore Ravens and Cleveland Browns, but Justin Herbert may bring some rookie magic with him as his team tries to upset the Raiders on the road and sabotage the Raiders’ attempts of reaching the playoffs.
– TUESDAY NIGHT FOOTBALL PREVIEW –
Los Angeles Chargers (4-9) at Las Vegas Raiders (7-6)
Spread: Raiders -3 | Over/Under 53.5
Spreads aren’t something the Los Angeles Chargers haven’t had success lately. They covered the spread for the first time in seven games last week. They have however covered the spread in four of their last 5 games playing on the road against the Las Vegas Raiders. The Chargers are 0-5 straight up in their last five games and 5-15 straight up in their last 20 games. The total has gone OVER in 7 of the Chargers’ last 10 games.
The Las Vegas Raiders are 4-2 straight up in their last six games played against their AFC West division rivals but are 4-12 straight up in their last 16 games played in December. The total has gone OVER in 10 of the Raiders’ last 13 games and it’s gone OVER in five of their last six home games. However, the total has gone UNDER in 6 of the Raiders’ last 8 games against the Los Angeles Chargers. The Raiders are 5-2 ATS in their last seven games against AFC conference opponents.
In the midst of his first professional brick wall, Justin Herbert (21.9 fantasy points per game, 7th-highest among quarterbacks) looks to get back on track. His last three performances have resulted in QB14, QB29, and QB15 finishes on the week. This was after seven consecutive weeks of top-12 performances, including a 23.4 fantasy point performance against the Raiders in Week 9. One passing weapon that Herbert is unlikely to utilized effectively this week is Austin Ekeler. Over the past four weeks, the Las Vegas Raiders pass defense has excelled at limiting running backs’ success in the passing game with a 30-percent (No. 5) pass success rate. They faced two top-12 offenses in pass success rates to running backs during this four-game stretch. The Raiders have a middle of the pack fantasy defense against quarterbacks and one thing to watch is Herbert’s protection. Herbert’s 77.6-percent protection rate is No. 32 among quarterbacks, but the Raiders have recorded a sack on 3.1-percent of opposing quarterback pass attempts, which is the second-lowest in the NFL. This lack of a pass-rush was on display in their first matchup where they managed to rush Herbert only seven times.
Matchups are usually what fantasy managers look at when streaming a quarterback in fantasy football. Facing the Indianapolis Colts last week, it was understandable to fade Derek Carr. He proceeded to finish as QB5 with 25.8 fantasy points. Two weeks before that, Carr was a popular streaming option against the Atlanta Falcons. He finished as QB34 with 1.6 fantasy points, meaning two backup quarterbacks finished with better fantasy performances. On the season, Carr has actually been a serviceable, above-average quarterback. His 7.6 adjusted yards per attempt is No. 9 among quarterbacks and his 75.2-percent true completion, which factors out unpressured throwaways and drops, is No. 13. The one glaring issue with Carr is his undeniable struggles in the red-zone where he completes 57.5-percent (No. 32) of his passes, despite throwing 73 (No. 2) passes in the red-zone. The Los Angeles Chargers’ red zone defense at 59.1-percent is No. 11 in red-zone scoring percentages
Entering Week 15, Austin Ekeler has put up two top-10 running back weekly fantasy performances in his three games since returning from a hamstring injury. A large part of his fantasy success is due to his involvement in the passing game where his 18.2-percent (No. 3) target share and 8.0 (No. 9) yards per reception allows him to dominate PPR leagues despite his lack of heavy running back attempts. As mentioned earlier, the Las Vegas Raiders’ pass defense is good at stopping running backs in the passing game. What he’ll lack in efficiency in this game, he’ll make up with volume. Ekeler has touched the ball 24 or more times in two of his three games since returning from injury. He is nursing a quad injury though, so temper expectations. Kalen Ballage (27 and 23 snaps) has been involved on over 30-percent of the snaps the past two weeks and had three consecutive top-16 weeks in the weeks leading up to Ekeler’s return. If Ekeler’s injury does sideline him for the game, then Ballage will receive enough volume to be an RB2 option for the week.
#Raiders’ RB Josh Jacobs is active today, but he posted on his Instagram story that he’s not playing.
And he included a message to your fantasy team on the bottom. pic.twitter.com/0bx8zpFWBV
— NFL Update (@MySportsUpdate) December 13, 2020
Teasing people about missing the game last week wasn’t appreciated by the fantasy football community, but Josh Jacobs ended up playing against the Indianapolis Colts after missing Week 13. However, Jacobs was clearly not 100-percent because he finished with 17 touches for 74 yards and 10.4 (No. 24) fantasy points in Week 14. Jacobs suffered a knee injury initially in Week 9 and has seen his fantasy performances take a hit. Jacobs had four-straight top-20 running back fantasy performances before Week 11. Since Week 11, he has more games missed (1) than games inside the top-20 among running backs. Starting Jacobs is ill-advised this week, even against a team finishing in the top-10 in YPC allowed.
On a team that runs 43.0 (No. 2) pass plays in the NFL per game, Keenan Allen and his league-leading 144 targets are a lock to start on fantasy rosters each week. After failing to finish as a WR1 in each of his past three performances, Allen is positioned to end the slump this week when he goes against the Las Vegas Raiders, whom he scored 25.3 fantasy points against back in Week 9. He’s seen 10+ targets in each of his last three games against the Raiders. Despite running 472 (No. 15) routes, Jalen Guyton is non-relevant in fantasy football even when he has a good matchup because of his low 7.8-percent (No. 106) target rate and 8.5-percent (No. 215) target rate. Guyton and his 17.0 (No. 4) average target distance are nothing more than a decoy in the passing game and this week he draws a matchup against the Raiders’ top corner, Trayvon Mullen. Mike Williams and his back problems are worth monitoring, but on a short week, it’s best to leave him out of lineups. Tyron Johnson is more of a GPP play than a fantasy football play. His 23.0 yards per reception on 12 receptions means he’s one boom play away from getting his DraftKing salary’s worth.
Since Henry Ruggs is on the Covid list, Nelson Agholor becomes the de facto No. 1 receiver in the Las Vegas Raiders offense. Agholor has shown flashes of excellence this season and is scoring 2.24 (No. 13) fantasy points per target and has a 116.4 (No. 17) QB rating when targeted. Not only is he Derek Carr’s preferred deep threat with 16 (No. 23) deep targets and a 14.9 (No. 9) average target distance, he’s also Carr’s red zone preference with 13 (No. 12) targets in the red zone. He will receive extra attention from Michael Davis this week though with Ruggs out. Hunter Renfrow is the only other wide receiver to consider in this matchup. He has run 30 or more routes in each of his last three games and has averaged more than 7 targets per game over the stretch. Even so, Renfrow is not fantasy-relevant this week. Ruggs’ replacement in the starting lineup is fellow rookie Bryan Edwards. His playing time should increase significantly without Ruggs and it will be the first time since early in the season that he is in the consideration for fantasy production. His situation must be monitored, but for now, he’s a GPP play and not a fantasy football option.
After three consecutive top-10 weekly tight end performances, Hunter Henry has come down to earth the past two weeks and failed to capitalize on a favorable matchup against the Atlanta Falcons last week. Henry is averaging 9.8 fantasy points per game this season, which is ninth-most among tight ends. If it seems like his season has been underwhelming it’s because Henry receives inefficient targets. Henry is averaging 6.4 (No. 26) yards per target and is incapable of generating separation (1.15 yards, No. 32). His 13.4-percent (No. 31) dominator rating is unimpressive and if the Chargers don’t run 43 pass plays as they average per game, then Henry suffers and is barely a TE2. In Week 9 against the Las Vegas Raiders, Henry ran 37 routes and finished with 4 catches for 33 yards (7 targets). His 7.3 fantasy points that week was barely a TE2 performance. Nick Kwiatkoski is expected to guard Henry and give him a difficult time as he had in their first matchup.
You lost your playoffs if your fantasy playoffs started in Week 13 and your opponent had Darren Waller. That’s because Waller’s 45 fantasy points were more than 17 points better than Travis Kelce’s best fantasy performance of the season. Waller leads tight ends in red-zone targets (22) and receptions (17), along with a 27.6-percent target share that also leads tight ends. For the past three weeks, Waller has run 37, 42, and 45 routes. These are three of the four highest route runs games of Waller’s season. Waller’s efficiency is shown in his 2.00 (No. 5) yards per route run while running 409 (No. 6) routes this season. With a floor of 7 targets in this game, Waller is guaranteed to be a top-5 tight end this week solely on the volume he’ll receive in the passing game.
Blitzing is not a priority for the Los Angeles Chargers. Nobody in the NFL blitzes at a lower rate than them. Despite this, the Chargers are in the middle of the NFL in pressure rate generated per quarterback dropback. The Chargers defense is in the top quarter of the league in passing yards allowed but is a bottom-third defense in rushing yards and yards per carry. They also generate turnovers at a 9.9-percent rate, which is in the bottom quarter of the league. Only the Pittsburgh Steelers allow fewer yards after the catch than the Chargers. However, the Chargers do allow the fourth-highest average depth of target when targeted (8.9) and they have allowed 26 (No. 5) passing touchdowns. Special teams miscues have been on display the past few weeks. They have allowed 170 more punt return yards than the next-highest team and the 27.7 yards per kick return is fifth-most allowed by a special teams unit.
Yesterday, several defensive starters for the Las Vegas Raiders were announced as out for the Thursday night game against the Los Angeles Chargers, including safety Johnathan Abram, defensive end Clelin Ferrell, and cornerback Damon Arnette. Similar to the Chargers, the Raiders blitz at a low rate (20.5-percent) and generate pressure at almost an identical rate of 22.2-percent. The Raiders allow the eighth-most passing yards and passing first downs in the NFL. Their run defense is impressively consistent with their pass defense. The Raiders allow the eighth-most rushing yards and rushing first downs. Part of the issue for the Raiders is their 114 (second-most) missed tackles by their defense. The Raiders allow the sixth-lowest completion percentage of passes (62.9-percent). The defensive unit of the Raiders struggles to get off the field. The 81 third-down conversions are the third-most in the NFL and the 86.7-percent fourth-down conversion allowed is the second-highest in the NFL.
Entering Week 15, both teams are conservative with their blitzing and struggle against the run. The Los Angeles Chargers average the best starting field position in the NFL (their own 33.1-yard line), while the Las Vegas Raiders average the most points scored per drive (2.83). The Chargers are the tenth-highest scoring team per drive (2.41) and average the ninth-quickest drive time (2:38). The defense advantage goes in favor of the Chargers because they can at least contain the pass, while the Raiders are bad at both run and pass defense. Special teams advantage will always go to the team playing against the Chargers. Both teams will be missing their biggest vertical threats in the passing game (Raiders: Henry Ruggs, Chargers: Mike Williams). I’ll give the offense advantage to the Chargers. For the total on the game, give me the UNDER. An injured Josh Jacobs will struggle to take advantage of the Chargers’ run defense, allowing the Chargers to focus on shutting down the passing offense. For the spread, give me the underdog team to straight-up win. As mentioned, Jacobs is hurt, the defensive is missing three starters, and Henry Ruggs is out. That’s enough key pieces out for the Chargers to pull off the upset on the road. Chargers 28-20.