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Pigskin Diaries Presented by DraftKings Week 15: Yellow Flags Won't Save Knees

Pigskin Diaries

In the NFL, it only takes one play to end a player’s season.

New England Patriots tight end Rob Gronkowski tore his ACL and MCL on Sunday after receiving a vicious hit from Cleveland Browns safety T.J. Ward. Gronk, whose already suffered severe back, ankle, and forearm injuries at the young age of 24, will miss the remainder of the season and could miss the start of the 2014 season as well.

While basketball and football differ greatly, Gronk’s style of play and career arc is similar to Chicago Bulls guard Derrick Rose. Both play with a particularly violent style and have subsequently been riddled with serious injuries in their young careers. Rose is fearless when driving to the basket, contorting his body in incredible ways in order to score, and often time finding himself sprawled out on the hardwood afterwards. Gronk, unlike other tight ends that catch the ball with their back to the defense, attacks the seam at full speed and catches balls in traffic. This has helped the Patriots matriculate the ball on offense, but it has also opened up Gronk to some violent hits like the one from Ward on Sunday.

Luckily for Rose, his five-year, $94.3 million contract is guaranteed. In the NFL, only certain small percentages are promised.

Ward told reporters after the game, “If I were to hit him up high there’s a chance I’ll be fined, so I was just being safe.”

Other defensive backs, including Washington Redskins safety Brandon Merriweather, agree with Ward’s assessment. Nobody wants to send a fat check to Roger Goodell for a helmet-to-helmet hit, so players in the secondary may be purposefully or even subconsciously targeting players knees.

According to research done by The MMQB, only one ACL injury this season was the direct result of a defender targeting a players knees. It came in the preseason, when Houston Texans safety D.J. Swearinger dove low on Miami Dolphins tight end Dustin Keller, rupturing his ACL, MCL, and PCL, and dislocating his kneecap. If you choose to add the Gronkowski hit – it was a bang-bang play in truth – then you still only creep up to six percent of all ACL injuries being “intentional.”

The MMQB also discovered that the amount of ACL injuries this season is comparable to the last five seasons.

Football is violent. The “car crash” analogies players use to describe playing in an NFL game are real. The problem is there is no easy way to cull the violence and protect the players. Rules can only do so much – and as we’ve seen with increase in helmet-to-helmet penalties, players are likely to rebel at the sight of more flags – and there is nothing anything can do to prevent knee injuries that occur when a player’s cleat gets caught in the turf, or they cut the wrong way.

I fear that there will be some unwarranted rules created if other marquee players suffer knee injuries, but all they will do is confuse officials, coaches, players, and fans alike. Yellow flags won’t prevent violent collisions. There will still be car crashes every Sunday, and players will still end up being injured. Football is a brutal game, and if we want to make it safer, then the front office will have to do more than fine the players.

Satellites for the Dec. 22 Football Millionaire Grand Final are still running. The winner of this incredible event will take home $1 million of the $3.1 million prize pool, and you can qualify for as little as $2. Most of the regularly scheduled events, like the weekly $250,000 guarantee, also give away tickets to the Grand Final to the top finishers. If you’re like me and are struggling with injuries in season-long leagues, or you’re just looking for another sweat on Sunday, DraftKings is definitely the place to be.

As always, my picks include the number and all advanced statistics are courtesy of Football Outsiders.

San Diego @ Denver (-10)

I’ve picked the Thursday Night Football game incorrectly for four straight weeks. On the season, I’m 6-8 ATS on Thursday night, and if you include the two early games on Thanksgiving, I’m 7-9.

None of those trends really matter, but I am confident that we will be 8-9 after Thursday’s AFC West tilt between the Chargers and the Broncos. Denver is 5-2 ATS and undefeated at home, outscoring their opponents by an average of 21.57 points. Their smallest margin of victory was a 10-point win over the Kansas City Chiefs in Week 11.

The Broncos tout the No. 1 ranked offense DVOA (32.3 percent), and the Chargers are right behind them at No. 2 (22.2 percent). The problem is San Diego can’t stop a nosebleed on defense, ranking dead last in DVOA (21.9 percent). Even without Wes Welker, who is sidelined with a concussion, Peyton Manning should have no problem putting up a lot of points.

Fantasy: There is some speculation that Jacob Tamme could step in and benefit from Welker’s absence, but there is no way you’re starting Tamme in your fantasy playoffs unless you’re in a two-tight end league.

Buffalo @ Jacksonville (+2)
New England (-2) @ Miami

Sit down and take a deep breath before you read this next sentence. Since Week 10, the Jacksonville Jaguars rank 17th in defense DVOA (0.7 percent) and 11th in rush defense DVOA (-13.7 percent). On offense, they’ve climbed all the way up to 27th in DVOA (-18.4 percent).

This may not seem like much, but after four weeks they were on pace to be one of the worst teams of all time. Since starting off 1-7 ATS, the Jags have covered in four of their last five games, winning three of them outright.

Buffalo has struggled offensively this year, ranking 25th in DVOA (-13.3 percent) and 30th (-23.2 percent) since Week 10. The Bills are 1-5 ATS on the road, scoring an average of 16.67 points per game.

We might be late to the Jags party, and I would be much happier if we were getting a field goal or more, but we’ll take the points anyway.

In October, the Dolphins got off to a hot start against the Patriots in Foxborough, but choked away a three-score lead in a matter of minutes. If Miami was getting a field goal or more, I would pick them without hesitation, but I don’t see the value in two points.

In the last decade, teams who make the playoffs are 44-34-1 ATS (56.33 percent) when giving 2.5 points or less on the road.

Fantasy: According to Mike Clay of Pro Football Focus Fantasy, over the last four weeks, 25 percent of the Patriots targets are going to Shane Vereen. He’s a PPR stud.

Houston (+5.5) @ Indianapolis
Washington (+7) @ Atlanta

Fantasy: Atlanta ranks 29th in defense DVOA (13 percent) and 31st in pass defense DVOA (24.3 percent). Pierre Garçon and Alfred Morris will be just fine with Kirk Cousins under center.

Philadelphia (-4.5) @ Minnesota

With Adrian Peterson at running back, the Vikings are 7-6 ATS and 3-3 ATS at home. This weekend they will be without AD due to an ankle injury, and Stanford standout Toby Gerhart will be the feature back.

The Eagles are on a roll, winning seven out of their last nine games. In that span, they’re 6-2-1 ATS.

Even with Peterson, the Vikings ranked 22nd in offense DVOA (-8.2 percent). Their quarterback situation is dismal – they turned to Josh Freeman in their Week 7 loss to the Giants – and without a few nifty plays from rookie Cordarrelle Patterson, Minnnesota’s offensive ranking would likely be even lower.

Philadelphia’s offense been among the league leaders in DVOA (19.9 percent) all season, and since Week 10 the defense has started to turn it around. During the first nine weeks of the season they ranked 30th (12.7 percent), and in the last five week’s they’ve improve to No. 11 (-10.9 percent).

If Chip Kelly’s defense continues to play above average ball, then they will be a force to reckon with heading into the post season.

Fantasy: If Gerhart was playing against the Eagles earlier in the season, I would be more exciting about the matchup. As it stands, if he plays, I think he’s a flex play at best.

DraftKings Value Plays

Each week in the Pigskin Diaries, I bring you 10 players who I think have value on DraftKings. These players may not be the best at their position on a week-to-week basis, but because of their match up and their price this week, I think they’re solid selections. Picking these value plays will save you money for other positions if you wish to purchase a few stud players.

As always, these players are ranked by price.

WRDez BryantGreen Bay$7,300
RBEddie LacyDallas$7,000
QBAndy DaltonPittsburgh$6,400
RBZac StacyNew Orleans$6,400
QBKirk CousinsAtlanta$5,400
WRSteve SmithNew York Jets$5,400
WRCordarrelle PattersonPhiladelphia$5,300
TEBrent CelekMinnesota$4,000
KMason CrosbyDallas$3,400

Dez Bryant: According to FO, the Packers rank 30th in DVOA against No. 1 receivers, giving up an average of 76.1 yards per game. This is good news for Dez.

Eddie Lacy: Dallas ranks 30th in defense DVOA (13.1 percent) and rush defense DVOA (4.3 percent).

Andy Dalton: Tannehill scored 24.6 points against the Steelers defense last week. Dalton has the skills and the weapons to top that.

Zac Stacy: I still believe in his talent, and I still believe that New Orleans can be exploited by running the football.

Kirk Cousins: There will be a lot of DraftKings players with Cousins in their lineup, but against one of the worst defenses in the league, he’s too valuable to pass up at this price.

Steve Smith: Smith only has four touchdowns on the season, but the Jets have given up the fifth-most points to opposing receivers.

Cordarrelle Patterson: The Eagles have given up the most points to opposing receivers.

Brent Celek: Minnesota has given up 11 touchdowns to opposing tight ends.

Eagles: Philadelphia’s defense has turned it around during the past few weeks, and the Vikings could be without Peterson and Gerhart.

Mason Crosby: Dallas’ defense is putrid, but without Rodgers, Green Bay may have to settle for a few field goals.

San Francisco @ Tampa Bay (+5)

The Bucs are red hot, winning four out of their last five games. Prior to the start of their winning ways, they took the Seahawks to overtime in Seattle – remember, the Hawks haven’t lost at home in two seasons.

Four of Tampa Bay’s nine losses have come by three points or less this season.

The Niners won an emotional game at home against the aforementioned Seahawks last week, retaining a one-game lead over the Cardinals and a two-game lead over the Bears and Cowboys. San Francisco is set to play against Arizona in the last game of the season, and the winner is likely to advance to the playoffs as the six seed.

San Francisco is a better team (eighth in total DVOA, 15.9 percent) than Tampa Bay (13th in total DVOA, 1.0 percent), and they should be favored, but not by more than a field goal.

In Football Outsiders’ weekly picks against the spread, they picked the Bucs with the highest confidence rating.

Fantasy: Don’t get cute. The Niners have a top-10 defense according to DVOA, but Vincent Jackson is a stud. Also, if Bobby Rainey’s emergence has helped you reach this far in the fantasy playoffs, there’s a high likelihood that the players on your bench aren’t sufficient enough to fill that void at RB2 or FLEX.

Chicago @ Cleveland
Green Bay @ Dallas

Because of the uncertainty of Jay Cutler and Aaron Rodgers’ respective injuries, these two games are off the board. Instead of foolishly making a pick despite having the necessary information (a la last week), I’m going to wait.

I’m not sure how much it really matters in Chicago’s case – I’d rather bet on Josh McCown the way he’s been playing – but the Rodgers injury is certainly a big deal. When more information becomes available, I will tweet my picks and then retroactively add them to this week’s slate.

Fantasy: Don’t believe the talking heads when they talk about “chemistry” between McCown and Alshon Jeffrey. Jeffrey is a phenomenal receiver that will get his with anyone under center. Brandon Marshall will get his as well.

Editors Note (Sunday, 12:00 p.m. EST): I'm taking Packers (+5) and Browns (+1).

New York Jets (+11) @ Carolina
Seattle (-7) @ New York Giants

This week, after signing with the New York Mets, outfielder Curtis Granderson said that “true New Yorkers are Mets fans.” Yankees fans may take offense to this, but Giants, Jets, Rangers, Islanders, Knicks, and Nets fans should all be nodding solemnly.

Despite getting handled on Sunday night by New Orleans, I still think the Carolina Panthers are contenders in the NFC, but this is too many points. Under Rex Ryan, the Jets are 3-1 ATS as double-digit underdogs, and three of those games were with Mark Sanchez at quarterback.

The Panthers have never been double-digit favorites during the Cam Newton era.

The Giants played one of the worst football games I’ve seen in a long time last week in San Diego, and during the important stages of the game they couldn’t score points against the 32nd-ranked defense DVOA. Now Eli Manning and company have to try and score against the No. 1 defense DVOA (-20.2 percent), and then Big Blue’s defense has to try and stop the No. 6 offense DVOA (13.1 percent).

Fantasy: If you miraculously found a way to reach the playoffs with Victor Cruz, congratulations. After Week 1, Cruz has only scored one touchdown. He shouldn’t be anywhere near your starting lineup, especially with Richard Sherman lined up across from him this week.

Kansas City @ Oakland (+4.5)
Arizona @ Tennessee (+2.5)
New Orleans (-5.5) @ St. Louis

These spreads stink. They smell like decade-old cheese wrapped in a dead skunk. The only reason I’m laying the points with the Saints is they’re playing in a dome against an average defense (15th in DVOA, -1.0 percent).

Home underdogs are 39-30-1 ATS this season (56.43 percent). Don’t be fooled by how obvious these lines look. All of the public money will be on the favorites, and we will happily fade the public bettors.

Well, for the most part.

Fantasy: Marques Colston looked great last week, catching nine passes for 125 yards and two touchdowns. Colston finally looks healthy again, and is a solid FLEX or WR2 start.

Cincinnati (-3) @ Pittsburgh

According to Football Outsiders, the Steelers have played the fifth-easiest (-4.5 percent) in the NFL, yet they’re only 5-8.

In the first game these two AFC North rivals played against one another in Week 2, the Bengals defeated the Steelers 20-10, and Pittsburgh didn’t score a single point in the second half.

The Steelers five wins are against the Jets (26th in total DVOA), Ravens (21st), Bills (22nd), Lions (12th), and Browns (28th). They are 0-3 both straight up and ATS against teams ranked in the top 10 of total DVOA.

Cincinnati comes in at No. 7, and with a possible two seed riding on this game, I am very confidant that they’ll cover the field goal spread.

Fantasy: Is the good Andy Dalton back? Indy ranks 21st in pass defense DVOA (13.1 percent) so only time will tell, but this is a very nice matchup against a Steelers team that just gave up three touchdowns to Ryan Tannehill. I’m not sure who you’re benching in favor of Dalton, but with several quarterbacks injured, he could be your starter regardless.

Baltimore (+6) @ Detroit

The Lions are 3-3 ATS as home favorites this season, and 1-1 ATS when giving more than a field goal. The one cover as a heavy favorite came on Thanksgiving, when Matt Flynn did a lot of Matt Flynn things.

Four days before beating the Packers by 30, Detroit lost outright as nine-point favorites against the Buccaneers.

The Lions are currently slated to win the NFC North thanks to terrible play from the Vikings, an injury to Rodgers, and a multitude of injuries to the Bears defense. With Rodgers’ return up in the air, there’s a good chance that Green Bay and Chicago could both lose on Sunday – the Browns are 3-4 at home and just went toe-to-toe with the Patriots on the road.

The Ravens are perhaps the most bland team in the league, but at least they’re consistently bland. The team ranks third in variance from week-to-week, according to FO, while the yo-yo Lions come in at No. 19.

If this line was closer to three, I’d still consider taking Baltimore. At six, this one feels like a no-brainer.

Fantasy: Even if Reggie Bush is good to go this week, Joique Bell will eat into his workload considerably. The Ravens rank eighth in defense DVOA (-8.5 percent), so perhaps you might have to look elsewhere if you own Bell, Bush, or even both players.

Last Week: 9-7
Season: 92-109-7

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