Just like last week, the small slate of NFL games sets up a very different DFS environment from that of the regular season.
The dearth of available options has us avoiding cash games. But a wealth of contest options with a wide range of entry fees leaves plenty of room for varying GPP (guaranteed prize pool) strategies.
We planned to discuss our approaches on the weekly podcast, but Jared has the flu and my son is sick, so Kevin and I decided to address the Divisional Round of fantasy play this way instead.
Before you set your lineups, decide how you’re going to play it. I’m not a big-money player, but I’ll be entering multiple lineups mostly into low-dollar tournaments to get exposure to a variety of players across DraftKings, FanDuel and Yahoo!. Playing all 3 sites also helps me diversify my exposure without feeling like I need to force every player of interest into a lineup on any single site.
Kevin says he’ll likely avoid cash games as well and also plans to enter multiple GPP lineups to diversify his portfolio. If you plan to hit the cash games, we agree that trying to build around the Patriots D and at least 1 of the top 2 RBs looks like a good idea.
He’s better at this DFS stuff than I am, so I asked him to lay out his favorites at each position across the 3 sites I mentioned above. Then I threw in my own 2 cents … which I’m hoping to at least double to 4 cents in this weekend’s tourneys ...
Russell Wilson (FD: $8,200, DK: $6,900, Yahoo: $33)
Wilson’s posted 2+ TD passes in 3 of his last 4 matchups. Now he gets an Atlanta unit that’s allowed the most fantasy points to QBs this season. Mix in the possibility of a volume boost — Seattle enters Saturday as 5-point underdogs — and you have the makings of a high-upside asset.
Other reasons for optimism: Wilson hasn’t run/scrambled much in recent weeks, but it’s possible that changes if the game script demands more passing. Along those lines, the emergence of talented young receiver Paul Richardson gives Wilson another piece alongside Doug Baldwin and Jimmy Graham.
Tom Brady (FD: $8,600, DK: $7,600, Yahoo: $37)
Predictably, Vegas has New England pegged for roughly 4 TDs. They’re home. They’re rested coming off a bye. And they’re relatively healthy (save for Rob Gronkowski).
There’s nothing wrong with Brady’s current form, either. He’s chucked 3 TDs in 3 of his past 4 outings. Houston rolls out a solid secondary, and the Texans’ pass D ranks top 5. But with Brady, we’re talking about an all-time great postseason performer. His last 3 home playoff games (2014-2015) have amounted to 895 yards and 8 TDs.
Dak Prescott (DK: $6,000)
Prescott is simply too cheap at his current listing. The rookie has reached 18 DK points in 12 of the last 14 full games. (He rested for most of Week 17). The only games in which he fell shy of 18 points? At Minnesota and at the Giants. Prescott also notched a 247-3-1 line at Green Bay back in Week 6.
He’ll likely prove popular, but the salary relief is key in a week with competitive pricing. A questionable ceiling just leaves him with more of a “cash game” label.
I think you can make a case for any QB not named Brock Osweiler this week. (And I used him in what ended up being my highest-scoring DK lineup last weekend.)
Aaron Rodgers figures to be the highest owned after a 3rd straight 4-TD outing against the toughest D he’s faced in a while. But I’ve learned over the past 2 weeks that it’s not a great idea to leave him out of all your lineups. FanDuel’s the easiest place to fit him into a lineup that I like.
Matt Ryan’s 335 yards and 3 TDs at Seattle back in Week 6 – along with the rest of this season, of course -- showed he boasts as high a ceiling as Rodgers and Brady. And I’d bet he’ll find a lower owned rate than either of those guys this week—perhaps even lower than Wilson and Prescott.
Alex Smith, meanwhile, topped 23 fantasy points in each of his past 2 games. And he did so against Denver (for the 2nd time this year) and at San Diego, which Football Outsiders ranked 8th for the year in total defensive efficiency. He has rushed for TDs in 3 straight games and led the team with 5 for the season.
Smith’s easy to overlook amid a strong QB group but could offer important savings – especially on DK ($5,400) and Yahoo! ($25) – along with sneaky upside. WR Tyreek Hill looks like the most sensible stack with Smith.
Ezekiel Elliott (FD: $8,500, DK: $8,500, Yahoo: $35)
On the main sites, Elliott provides a steep discount from Le’Veon Bell — $1,400 on FanDuel and $2,000 on DraftKings. The Cowboy is particularly enticing on FD given their $60,000 cap.
Of course, he toppled the Green Bay run D in Week 6 with 157 yards on 28 carries. That unit entered the early-season matchup 1st in run defense, but it proceeded to slide. The Packers ended the regular season 8th, allowing nearly 95 yards per game.
Ultimately, Elliott supplies you with a high-floor/high-ceiling combo given his talent, opportunity and consistency. Consider that he tallied 90+ total yards in each game from Week 3 on.
Thomas Rawls (Yahoo: $22)
Rawls was a ridiculous $13 dollars last week on Yahoo. Even with the $9 bump, he still eats up just 11% of your cap space (lower than his figure on FD or DK).
The grinding RB handled 27 carries last week — the 2nd highest total of his young career — taking them for 161 yards and 1 score. The risk here is that Seattle falls behind to the high-scoring Falcons and limits Rawls’ workload. But if the game remains close — as expected — Rawls could push for another 20+ carries. He’d do so vs. a unit that finished the regular season 29th in Football Outsiders run DVOA.
Prospective owners should also monitor news regarding C.J. Prosise, who’s been out since Week 12 with a shoulder injury. HC Pete Carroll said Thursday that Prosise will likely be a game-time decision.
Dion Lewis (FD: $5,400, DK: $3,900, Yahoo: $18)
Lewis’ last 3 games have produced 18, 16 and 11 rushing attempts. While he’s yet to be unleashed as a receiver, we know that’s in his arsenal. (Lewis caught 36 of 50 targets in just 7 games in 2015.) Given Lewis’ injury history, the Pats might have limited his regular season reps in an effort to get him ready for a postseason run.
Of course, teammate LeGarrette Blount is in play as well. He’s a strong TD bet. But I like the discount that Lewis provides — especially on DraftKings. Likely to go under-owned, Lewis makes for a strong tournament play and can be considered in cash games as well.
I like the savings-plus-situation upside that Lewis brings as well. I don’t expect him to unseat Blount as the goal-line back, but he did garner 4 carries and 1 target from the 10-yard line and in over the past 3 games—among 10 total red-zone opportunities within that stretch.
No one needs to build the case for Le’Veon Bell, even at his steepened prices this week. So I’ll just add that I think he’s less of a “must” this weekend than he was last time around. Adding Dallas, New England and Atlanta significantly upgrades the RB menu. That said, a hobbled Ben Roethlisberger only figures to make Bell more of the focal point. Also, the Chiefs allowed 5.0 yards per carry over the final 4 games—beginning with the game ILB Derrick Johnson left in the 2nd quarter (Achilles’ tear).
I’ll throw in Ty Montgomery as well, after he hit double-digit carries for just the 2nd time all year last week. Jordy Nelson’s likely absence could mean a bit more rushing and shift a few more targets to this hybrid.
Finally, Devonta Freeman’s easy to lose sight of. He’s more expensive than Blount on DK and FD and ahead of Rawls (behind Blount) on Yahoo!. The matchup’s not good, and he did little in the 1st meeting. But Freeman also finished the season 3rd in the league in red-zone carries and 2nd in RB red-zone targets. With Vegas odds projecting slightly more than 28 points for the Falcons, Freeman could deliver big fantasy points to relatively low ownership even on inefficient yardage. He also caught 13 balls over the season’s final 2 games.
Dez Bryant (FD: $7,600, DK: $6,600, Yahoo: $25)
Dez Bryant … Green Bay Packers … playoffs. Yeah, it’s hard not to think about.
Narratives aside, it’s easy to approach Bryant with optimism. The Packers allowed a whopping 26 TDs to WRs during the regular season — 5 more than the next team. A banged-up secondary can certainly be exposed by a rested Dez. Since returning from injury in Week 8, he’s scored 7 TDs (and that’s despite resting for most of Week 17). He’s in play for me regardless of format.
Doug Baldwin (FD: $7,900, Yahoo: $26)
Baldwin’s pricey on DraftKings ($8,100) but more manageable on the other sites. He’s shown massive potential over the past month, a stretch that’s included 3 TDs and lines of 13-171-1 and 11-104-1.
Look for another double-digit target outing, particularly if the game unfolds as Vegas expects. Seattle enters Saturday as a 5-point underdog, while the over/under sits at an enticing 51.5 points.
Paul Richardson (FD: $4,700, DK: $4,100, Yahoo: $12)
Here’s your path to rostering a couple of top-tier guys.
Richardson dazzled last week with a pair of tough catches, including 1 in the end zone. He finished the Lions game with just 4 targets but actually played 55 snaps — 4 more than Doug Baldwin. He’ll retain volume upside as long he remains a staple on the field. A matchup in a dome at Atlanta — which allowed the 5th most catches to WRs on the year — only raises Richardson’s ceiling.
Geronimo Allison (FD: $5,300, DK: $3,900, Yahoo: $10)
Jordy Nelson lasted just 16 snaps last week before departing with a rib injury. Allison played 41 snaps (58%) as a result, although he snagged just 1 of 2 targets for 8 yards.
Still, any sizable piece of an Aaron Rodgers-led offense deserves consideration. And don’t discount his production across Week 16 (7-4-66) and Week 17 (6-4-91-1). The rookie is a worthy tournament dart despite facing a strong Dallas secondary.
I like Bryant a lot this week. He has scored on 16% of his receptions this season, and I think the fact that his QB is a rookie – plus the other top WR talent available – will keep his owned rate lower than it should be. Cole Beasley's also worth a shot in a lineup or 2 after he scored twice in the 1st meeting with Green Bay (albeit, with Bryant out). The Packers struggle vs. all WR spots and will have many dangerous aspects to focus on in defending the Cowboys this Sunday.
The case against Randall Cobb centers on the likelihood that his owned rate will skyrocket, plus the fact that it’s been a mostly disappointing season. But he also caught 7 of 11 targets in the 1st meeting with Dallas and scored in that game. I wouldn’t chase him hard in lineups, but I’m wary of fading him completely. Davante Adams looks like the relatively safer play, though, and might find lower ownership than Cobb after the huge Wild Card game.
I’ll be using Richardson again after he helped me last week. But don’t forget about Jermaine Kearse, who’s now even cheaper. He tallied 16 targets over the final 2 regular-season games and drew 6+ in 4 of the final 5 weeks and 6 of the final 8. Last week, he played just 8 fewer snaps than Richardson, while all 3 Seattle wideouts played more downs than any of the team’s TEs.
As for New England, I’ll take shares of Chris Hogan (80+% playing time in 5 of final 6 games; 7 red-zone targets over final 4 games), Malcolm Mitchell and Julian Edelman in various places. Danny Amendola and Michael Floyd make me queasy, though.
Jimmy Graham (DK: $4,900, Yahoo: $18)
At $6,800, Graham is on the expensive side on FanDuel. He’s a fringe tournament play for me there.
Elsewhere, though, he’s more attractive across formats. Not only does Saturday’s game have the look of a potential shootout. But Graham posted a solid 6-89 line vs. Atlanta in an October meeting with Atlanta. Beyond that, the Falcons finished the regular season sitting top-8 in catches, yards and TDs allowed to TEs.
The next guy on this list — plus Graham’s recent cold stretch — could help keep the Seahawks’ owned rate low.
Jared Cook (FD: $5,400, DK: $3,900, Yahoo: $14)
Cook saw 9 target last week, giving him 8+ in 3 of his last 4 games. The Packers will likely be without Jordy Nelson (ribs) this week, boosting Cook’s volume outlook.
This matchup isn’t an issue, either. The Cowboys sit 30th in TE coverage, per Football Outsiders. The raw numbers back that up, too: Dallas allowed the most catches and yards to TEs during the regular season.
I’ll take all the Cook. He didn’t do anything big for me last week, but he didn’t hurt either. And I don’t think anyone else beats him on ceiling this week. The Graham swoon Kevin alluded to – 3 catches or fewer in 4 of his past 5 – make him not worth the money to me.
New England Patriots (FD: $5,100, DK: $4,000, Yahoo: $20)
New England’s best fantasy point total came early in the season vs. Houston (18). They’ve emerged in recent weeks, too, posting 8+ FD points in 5 of their last 6.
They’re clearly an elite play vs. Brock Osweiler and the Texans. And they’re tough to fade in cash games, especially with a lack of strong alternatives. The Chiefs represent my tournament pivot given Pittsburgh’s road struggles — and the return upside in Tyreek Hill. (The Chiefs had 8 D/ST scores during the regular season.)
The Patriots are worth trying to fit into lineups this week, more so than any D was last week. I agree with Kevin on the Chiefs, but I’ll throw Atlanta into the mix as well. Although I’d bet on a close game, Seattle has struggled in recent road trips. Before their win at San Francisco, the Seahawks scored 10 points at Green Bay and 5 at Tampa Bay, while compiling 9 turnovers in those contests.