Wild Card Weekend Primer: Analyzing All Four Games (Fantasy Football)
Welcome back! It may have seemed like a long time since we got together for another edition of The Primer, but I promise it’s only been two weeks since the last one was released. However, you shouldn’t expect the same ol’ article you’re used to. Since season-long leagues are over, this will be solely focused on DFS.
If you’re playing in a playoff league, you’ll still have a solid idea as to how I feel about each player when you’re done reading. Because of the smaller slate, it’ll likely be even more detailed than before. There’s only so much time in a week, after all. There will be two more versions of The Primer this year – this one and next week, because the championship week will only contain two games. Without wasting any time, let’s discuss what’s most likely to happen during wild card weekend.
Tennessee Titans at Kansas City Chiefs
Line: KC by 8.5
Marcus Mariota: Most don’t realize that Mariota finished the regular season with just 13 passing touchdowns, compared to 15 interceptions. The craziest part is that he threw a nearly identical amount of pass attempts as his 2016 campaign (453 in 2017, 451 in 2016) which netted him 26 passing touchdowns and just nine interceptions. His accuracy percentage was actually slightly higher in 2017, while his yards per attempt was a good bit lower. The Chiefs defense isn’t the same one you remember from the start of the season, as they’ve allowed just seven passing touchdowns in their last seven games, which comes after allowing 16 of them through the first nine games. They’ve also held eight of the last nine quarterbacks to less than 290 yards passing. The factor that matters most, though, is the home-field advantage one, as Arrowhead Stadium is one of the league’s toughest places to play. Over the last two years, the Chiefs have allowed just 16.5 points per game at home, compared to 24.1 points per game on the road. The silver lining that gives Mariota value is his legs. The Chiefs have allowed six different quarterbacks to rush for 20 or more yards, including 55 yards to Carson Wentz. Mariota isn’t a quarterback to target in cash or tournament lineups this week.
Alex Smith: Now that he’s had a week off, let’s hope it doesn’t affect what he had going for him during the regular season. Smith finished the year with a 5.2:1 touchdown to interception ratio, and he did that while completing 68 percent of his passes at a career-high 8.0 yards per attempt. Smith should be an MVP candidate. He’ll have a chance to show the world against the Titans, who I’d consider to have one of the weaker secondaries in the league. There’ve been four quarterbacks to hit the 300-yard mark against them, including two of their final three games. Even though they ranked 16th against fantasy quarterbacks, that doesn’t tell you the whole story. Looking a bit closer at their schedule, you can see a clear trend. There have been nine quarterbacks to total 15 or more fantasy points against them, which is solid, but which ones didn’t? DeShone Kizer, Jacoby Brissett (twice), Blake Bortles (twice), Jay Cutler, and Blaine Gabbert. Now what do you notice there? Not only are all of them underachieving real-life quarterbacks, but four of those games were within division. None are on the MVP-level that Smith is. He’s in-play for both cash and tournament lineups.
Derrick Henry: I’m going to leave Demarco Murray out of this because I wouldn’t want to trust him even if he does play. He’s been ineffective for the majority of the year, which is where he left off in 2016. Henry hasn’t been much better, but he’s definitely been better. Well Mike, why hasn’t Henry been considered good? He’s totaled 4.2 yards per carry and scored six total touchdowns in a timeshare, which is good, right? The issue is that he’s relying on breaking the big plays, as his successful play rate is just 48 percent, which is lower than the number Rob Kelley and Wayne Gallman had this season. Still, they don’t offer the big-play ability that Henry does. If he’s in a position to see 15-plus touches, he’s definitely worth considering. Since allowing Mike Gillislee three touchdowns in Week 1, they allowed nine more the rest of the year, and not more than one in any game. There’ve also been just two running backs who have totaled more than 79 yards on the ground against them, and both saw at least 27 carries. If Murray is out or available just in case of emergency, Henry becomes an interesting tournament option, but I’d avoid in cash because this is likely to have a negative game-script for him.
Kareem Hunt: It’s been an extremely up-and-down year for the rookie, who took the fantasy world by storm over the first three and last three weeks of the fantasy season, with a whole bunch of mediocre performances in-between. The lack of production from Weeks 8-13 in particular was frustrating, though it appears we’ve gotten through the “rookie wall” that most attribute his struggles to. The issue with relying on him this weekend is because the Titans are actually a somewhat dominant run-defense led by defensive tackle Jurrell Casey. On the year, they’ve allowed just one running back to total more than 77 yards on the ground, and that was MVP-candidate Todd Gurley in Week 16. If you recall, he did much of his damage through the air in that game, totaling 10 catches for 158 yards and two touchdowns. That’s likely because the Titans have allowed just four rushing touchdowns on the season, and none since Week 12. That’s the bad news, but the good news is that Charcandrick West is dinged up, as is Akeem Hunt, so Hunt should be getting plenty of targets in this game. Prior to Week 17, which doesn’t matter, Hunt had seen 13 targets in his last two games, hauling in 11 of them for 66 yards and a touchdown. Should West miss more practice time, Hunt is going to make for a good tournament stack with Alex Smith. I say that because if Hunt is going off, most of it’s likely coming through the air.
Rishard Matthews: I’d like to say that Matthews is the clear-cut No. 1 wide receiver in this offense, but he’s seen his targets fall off a bit as of late, totaling just six targets over the last two games, which were played like must-wins for the Titans. In fact, since returning, not only has Eric Decker out-targeted him, but so has Corey Davis, 22 to 19. Matthews remains the most productive one most of the time, though, so he must be considered. Matthews almost always plays more snaps on the right side of the formation, which is where Marcus Peters resides. After getting benched in Week 14 for a poor attitude, Peters cleaned up his act over his final two weeks of the season, allowing just four catches for 59 yards on 16 targets, while intercepting two Philip Rivers passes. He’s a bit hit-or-miss, but adding in his recent success, and Matthews latest struggles to get targets, it’s not the best of situations. He’s nothing more than a long-touchdown tournament option.
Eric Decker: Now seemingly having the possession role on the team, Decker has started to produce some consistent fantasy numbers, though nothing out of this world. He’s seen a healthy 6.4 targets per game since Week 13, and has managed to total at least 56 yards in 3-of-4 games, but has still scored just one touchdown all season. Knowing that Demarco Murray may not be available is a bonus, too, as he’ll see some of those shorter targets over the middle of the field, as Henry isn’t as good catching passes out of the backfield. He’ll match-up with Steven Nelson out of the slot, who’s been no pushover as of late. He hasn’t allowed a touchdown since back in Week 9, so approach with caution. If you were going to use Decker, cash would be the only option (not enough upside for tournaments), though I think you can do better.
Corey Davis: He’s actually seen more targets than Matthews over the last four weeks, but has just one decent game to show for it. He was able to haul in six passes for 91 yards against the Rams back in Week 16, but he’s still failed to find the end zone this season. Against the Chiefs, he’ll match-up with Darrelle Revis the majority of the time, who has been in the lineup since Week 13. He hasn’t been spectacular, allowing a line of 9/114/0 on 16 targets, though his experience is massive in the playoffs. He’s been there before and won’t allow the stage to shake him. Davis, on the other hand, is a rookie who has been extremely inconsistent. Davis is ridiculously more agile at this point in his career than Revis, so don’t just completely shut-down the possibility, but reserve Davis for tournament lineups only.
Tyreek Hill: There’s going to be a lot of fantasy players out there who’ll want to get in on Hill, due to his recent surge in production. He was able to post at least 75 yards in each of his last four games, which included performances of 6/185/2 and 6/109/0. The Titans secondary isn’t equipped to handle Hill, who will burn just about any defensive back in man coverage. He moves all over the formation, so there isn’t one specific cornerback he’ll match-up with, but rather a combination of primarily Adoree Jackson and Brice McCain. In fact, McCain was benched for a while, but will be needed now that LeShaun Sims is out with a hamstring injury. They aren’t the best of duos, and knowing how well the Titans stop the run, these two will be tested. Outside of Kelce, Hill is the only real threat in the receiving corps, making him safe to use in cash games and obviously tournaments. There have been eight wide receivers who’ve been able to post at least 19.5 PPR points against the Titans this year.
Albert Wilson: He’s kind of under-the-radar after a slow start, but Wilson has been somewhat heavily involved in the offense since Week 12. Since that time, he’s averaged 6.7 targets per game. To keep things in perspective, Tyreek Hill averaged 7.0 targets per game this year. He’s caught at least three passes in five of the last six games, and dominated in Week 17 against the Broncos to the tune of 10/147/0. Even going back to Week 16, he got wide open and dropped what would have been a long touchdown from Alex Smith. He’s one of the better sneaky plays in this game, and one that you should throw into a couple tournament lineups. Heck, if you’re trying to find a really cheap option in cash, it wouldn’t be the worst idea due to the volume of targets he’s seeing.
Delanie Walker: One of the most steady, consistent tight ends in the game right now, Walker has seen at least five targets in every game since Week 2. Oddly enough, he’s failed to record a 100-yard game this year, but has started to find the end zone with some regularity. After not scoring through the first 11 weeks, Walker has scored three times over the last six games. It’s worrisome that his yardage has dipped during that time (hasn’t topped 63 yards), but not enough to scare you off him. The Chiefs lost Eric Berry in the first game of the season, and he’s been the safety that has locked down tight ends in the past. Shockingly, they’ve played well against the position even without him, allowing just two top-eight tight ends all season, and it was Jared Cook both times. Odd, right? In fact, outside of Cook, there’s been just two tight ends to record more than three receptions against them, and they were Zach Ertz and Charles Clay. The matchup is far from ideal, but Walker is the one consistent in this offense, so you don’t want to completely fade him.
Travis Kelce: There aren’t many tight ends to choose from on this slate, and this game might just have the top-two. Kelce is without a doubt the No. 1 tight end on the slate, and despite what his ownership will be, you want to invest. The Titans have allowed four different tight ends rack up at least seven receptions against them, and another three tight ends to total at least five receptions. In fact, all but one tight end who saw at least six targets finished as a top-10 tight end against them, and that was Tyler Kroft, who caught just 1-of-6 targets. When looking at Kelce’s game log, you’ll see that he’s hit at least seven targets in all but three games this year. Don’t overthink this one – play Kelce in cash and tournaments.
My Prediction: Chiefs 24, Titans 16
Atlanta Falcons at Los Angeles Rams
Line: LAR by 6.5
Matt Ryan: Now back in the playoffs, can Ryan return to his MVP-form that he had in 2016? In reality, Ryan is back to being the quarterback that he always was, which is one you can win with, but one that also needs help from the defense and run-game. The Rams have been somewhat stingy against opposing passing games, allowing just three top-10 performances on the season. The silver-lining is that Ryan has played better on the road this year, averaging 264 yards passing with 12 touchdowns, while he averaged just 248 yards with eight touchdowns at home. The real question here is whether or not the Falcons offensive line can hold down Aaron Donald and the Rams pass rush, who sacked opposing quarterbacks on 8.0 percent of their dropbacks, the fourth-highest percentage in the league. The Rams also essentially had a bye week to prepare for this game, while the Falcons were fighting for their lives against the Panthers. The potentially high-scoring nature of this game is attracting, but I don’t think Ryan has a tournament-winning performance in him, and he’s also not what I’d describe as safe for cash lineups.
Jared Goff: This is what you call a comfy matchup for Goff, who will be playing a Falcons defense that has allowed every quarterback they’ve come in contact with at least 11.1 fantasy points. While that may not sound like a high number, it’s remarkable for an NFL team to not completely shut down at least one opposing quarterback, especially a Falcons defense that played out of their minds during the 2016 postseason. How does this happen? By allowing multiple touchdown passes in half of your games, including a three-touchdown game to Jameis Winston just a few weeks ago. The issue with placing Goff in every one of your cash and tournament lineups is that the Falcons have been somewhat of a bend-but-don’t-break defense, as there’ve been just two quarterbacks to score more than 20 fantasy points against them. Expect Goff to have a solid, though not stellar game. It should surprise anyone if he walks out of this game with 225-275 yards and two touchdowns, which is good enough for cash lineups. As for tournaments, I’d likely have lighter exposure than the field.
Devonta Freeman and Tevin Coleman: The Falcons seem to be using Freeman in the passing game once again, something they struggled to do the majority of the season. After seeing 26 targets over the first 14 weeks of the season, he’s now racked up 21 of them over the last three games, turning them into 16 receptions for 173 yards and a touchdown. The problem with carries remains, though, as he’s finished with 12 or less carries in eight of his last 10 games. He may not need a whole lot of work to beat the Rams defense, as they were a stomping ground for running backs a majority of the year. Carlos Hyde‘s two-touchdown performance in Week 17 was the fourth time a running back has done that against them this year, which is a big part of the reason they’ve allowed eight 20-plus PPR point games to running backs. Freeman plays better indoors, which is the only concern with him in this game, though not enough to fade him. He’s one of the cheaper starters on the slate, so feel free to generate some Freeman lineups for both cash and tournaments. Coleman is more of the wildcard, as he’s always in the range of 6-9 carries while Freeman is on the field with another 2-4 targets in the passing game. The only way he hits value is if he’s hitting on a long play or two. Because of that, avoid in cash, but play him in a few tournament lineups. *Note: Pay attention to Freeman as the week goes on, as he’s reportedly dealing with a knee injury sustained in Week 17.
Todd Gurley: Now that Gurley won you your fantasy title, what can he deliver in wild-card weekend? This matchup isn’t all that much different than the one he had back in Week 16 against the Titans. The Falcons have done well against the run, holding opposing running backs to just 3.85 yards per carry with six rushing touchdowns on the year. The Titans had allowed just 3.43 yards per carry and four touchdowns, but the point is that the damage is done through the air. The Titans finished the regular season allowing the most receiving yards to running backs, while the Falcons allowed the most catches (11 percent more than any other team) with the fourth-most yards. Knowing that Gurley got 13 targets in the last game he played should make you all giddy. In fact, he’s averaged 6.3 targets per game since the start of Week 7. As mentioned earlier, the Falcons have done well against the run, holding all but one running back to less than 80 yards on the ground. But as we’ve seen before, the Rams will exploit the opponent’s weakness. There have been 19 running backs who’ve totaled at least 20 yards through the air, giving him a rock-solid floor for cash-games. We already know he comes with the ceiling you want for tournaments.
Julio Jones: It wasn’t quite the year that Jones wanted to have, as he totaled over 1,400 yards, but finished with just three touchdowns. As Fantasy Guru’s Graham Barfield wrote, there have been 83 individual seasons that a wide receiver went for at least 1,400 yards, but Jones was the first one to score fewer than four touchdowns. It’s been this way with Jones before, just not to this extreme. The Rams aren’t likely to help him out there either, having allowed just 10 wide receiver touchdowns all season, and two of them came in Week 17 when they were resting starters. They did allow more yardage than over half the other teams, though, as the 2,316 yards to wide receivers ranked as the 15th most in the league. The Rams will likely lock Trumaine Johnson onto him in coverage, and while he’s solid, they can’t leave him one-on-one with Jones. Knowing that the Falcons are likely to be without Taylor Gabriel, look for Jones to see a safety shaded his way for most of the game. Because of the tougher matchup, I’d likely avoid him in cash, but would definitely have a few tournament lineups in case they trust Johnson to follow him alone.
Mohamed Sanu: He’s likely in line for a few extra targets now that we know Taylor Gabriel will miss this game with a hamstring injury. Sanu has been seeing solid targets for quite a while now, and has averaged 7.3 targets per game over the last six games. It’s no coincidence that when Gabriel left Week 17, Sanu saw a season-high 11 targets against the Panthers. Sanu has yet to clock more than 85 yards all season, so his ceiling may not be as high as we’d hope, but on a smaller slate, it should be enough. It’s also worth noting that he didn’t play outside when Gabriel went down, but rather stayed in the slot. He’ll see Nickell Robey-Coleman in coverage, which isn’t the greatest of matchups, as he’s allowed quarterbacks just a 77.5 QB Rating when targeting him in coverage. The 9.1 yards per reception is also rather low, meaning he keeps the play in front of him. Sanu is the definition of a player who isn’t safe enough for cash, but may not have enough upside in tournaments.
Robert Woods: Since returning from his shoulder injury, Woods hasn’t quite regained form, finishing with just 78 yards and one touchdown on 15 targets in two games. The touchdown saved him from completely flopping, but did we lose the wide receiver who posted at least 59 yards in six straight games before his injury? Seeing that the targets are still there, you shouldn’t worry too much. The Falcons don’t run any shadow coverage, so Woods will see a mix of Robert Alford and Desmond Trufant, a duo that allows just a 57 percent catch rate in their coverage, but also allows plenty of touchdowns. On 160 targets in coverage, the duo allowed nine touchdowns, which is somewhat high for a starting perimeter duo. There have been just three wide receivers to go for more than 86 yards against the Falcons this year, so don’t go expect a massive 150-yard, two-touchdown game out of him. This is an average matchup for him, so feel free to use him as you normally would. His price, though, is on the higher-end, making me look elsewhere most of the time.
Cooper Kupp: After averaging 8.0 targets, 6.0 receptions, 100.7 yards, and 0.3 touchdowns per game without Woods in the lineup, Kupp has seen just nine targets over the last two games, netting six catches for 86 yards and a touchdown. There is no doubt in Kupp’s ability, and it all comes down to opportunity. He’s going to have the best matchup on the field, so it would make sense that he gets plenty of opportunity in this game. The Falcons slot cornerback is Brian Poole, who has allowed 65-of-77 targets in coverage be completed. That amounts to an 84.4 percent completion rate. There isn’t another full-time cornerback who allows more than a 78.0 percent completion rate. Because the Rams have given us no reason to doubt their play-calling abilities, feel free to plug in Kupp to cash-game lineups. Knowing how good his matchup is, he’s also viable in tournaments.
Sammy Watkins: Some fun facts about Watkins: Among wide receivers, he finished 59th in targets, 63rd in receptions, and 51st in yards. The key stat, though, is his eight touchdowns, which ranked seventh among wide receivers. There were 12 running backs with more targets than him, 17 with more receptions, and five with more yards, including his teammate Todd Gurley. Scary, right? His matchup is essentially the same as Woods’, so he’ll see the mixture of Alford and Trufant in coverage. Watkins did see seven targets in Week 16, which was the highest he’s ever seen with Woods in the lineup, so at least it’s a step in the right direction. Because Watkins is more talented than Woods, you obviously don’t want to cross him off your list of potential DFS plays. He’s not getting enough targets to use in cash, but he’s a solid play in tournaments.
Austin Hooper: The targets that normally go to Taylor Gabriel are going to trickle down through the offense, which should add another target or two to the tight ends. It unfortunately doesn’t do much, though, as Hooper did see six-plus targets in 5-of-6 games from Weeks 4-10, though he failed to record more than 50 yards in any of them. Since that time, he’s failed to eclipse 38 yards or score a touchdown. His snap percentage hasn’t come down at all, so we shouldn’t lose all hope. The Rams haven’t been a defense to target with tight ends, either, as they’ve allowed just three tight ends to top 58 yards all season. Because of that, Hooper is strictly a tournament play.
Tyler Higbee: He’s now seen just four targets since the beginning of Week 13, so feel free to ignore him in fantasy circles. Gerald Everett did see six targets in Week 17, but that was while all the wide receivers were sitting out, as was Goff. Because of the lack of involvement with the tight ends, added in with the fact that the Falcons have done well against tight ends, and you have yourself a full-on fade.
My prediction: Rams 24, Falcons 23
Buffalo Bills at Jacksonville Jaguars
Line: JAX by 9.0
Tyrod Taylor: Well, the Bills made it to the playoffs. Now what? It appears that Taylor may be without McCoy in the backfield, which would present a serious problem for this team. Taylor is a solid quarterback, but not one to carry a team to the promised land. The run game opens up things for the passing game, not the other way around, so no McCoy would be a huge knock to this offense. On top of that, he’ll be playing the best defense we’ve seen maybe since the early 2000’s Ravens defense. They have showed signs of slipping a bit over the last month, but they did run into two of the hottest quarterbacks in football, Russell Wilson and Jimmy Garoppolo. We aren’t going to say Taylor belongs in that conversation, because, after all, he’s thrown just 14 touchdown passes this year. He’s also failed to throw for more than 225 yards in 12-of-15 games this season. It does help that the Jaguars play man coverage, which leads to defensive backs having their back to the quarterback, hence more rushing for the opposing quarterback. It’s why they have allowed eight quarterbacks to rush for 16 or more yards against them this year, including four of them with more than 30 yards. The Bills generated just 56.4 percent of their yards through the air this year, which was the lowest in the NFL. Taylor should provide a semi-decent floor because of his legs, but not enough to consider him in DFS.
Blake Bortles: Has the magic potion worn off? After throwing just eight interceptions through 15 weeks, Bortles has unraveled over the last two weeks, throwing for five interceptions against the 49ers and Titans secondaries. The Jaguars should be pleased with how Bortles played this year, but now it’s time to let the big boys play. If Bortles drops back to throw 35-plus times against the Bills, it’ll be a big mistake, and would be the only way the Jaguars potentially lose this game. There were just three instances that a quarterback threw for more than one touchdown against the Bills this year, and just once in their last six games. They haven’t allowed a quarterback to throw for more than 274 yards since way back in Week 8, so don’t expect much out of Bortles this week. He’s not on my radar for cash or tournaments this week.
LeSean McCoy: In what could be the official death sentence for the Bills, McCoy is considered to be a full-blown game-time decision. Not that McCoy playing would change the Bills’ fate, but it would at least give them hope. The run sets up the pass with this offense, not the other way around like in Green Bay or Seattle. No, in the Bills offense, they revolve around McCoy, as none of the wide receivers are gaining much separation, and Taylor isn’t the type of player to ‘take over’ a game. With the type of running back that McCoy is, it may not even matter if he plays, as an ankle injury is a killer for a running back like him who relies on so much agility. On top of that, the Jaguars run defense isn’t what it used to be. Over the first seven games, they allowed 848 yards on 161 carries (5.27 YPC) with four touchdowns. Since that time, they have allowed 672 yards on 195 carries (3.45 YPC) with three touchdowns. The 74.7 rushing yards per game over that span would be the lowest in the NFL. Even if McCoy plays, I’d avoid him. When McCoy went down in Week 17, the Bills split the carries between Mike Tolbert and Marcus Murphy. Neither of them would be recommended fantasy plays, even if McCoy was announced as out for this game.
Leonard Fournette: Has all the rest and missed practice time over the season helped Fournette be ready for the playoffs? You don’t draft a running back at No. 4 overall and not use him in the biggest game for the franchise. In the last seven games he’s played, Fournette has totaled at least 19 touches in all but one of them (against the Cardinals he had 15 touches). The best part is that they’ve used him pretty regularly in the passing game, as he’s caught at least three passes in each of his last five games. Because of that, Fournette has the floor you look for in cash-game lineups. As for tournaments, feel free to play a lot of him there as well. The Bills allowed the most rushing yards and touchdowns to running backs this year, which is extremely hard to do. It’s not as if they’ve gotten better, either, as they’ve now allowed 15 rushing touchdowns (by running backs alone) in their last 10 games. On the season, there have been 12 running backs who’ve rushed for at least 70 yards against them, including four running backs who hit 106 or more yards. This should be a monster game for him.
Kelvin Benjamin: Are you really looking to punish yourself by playing a wide receiver against the Jaguars? Benjamin is reportedly playing through a torn MCL that he’ll have surgery to repair after the season. You still want to play him? He’s topped 38 yards just once since joining the Bills. He’s scored just one touchdown since joining the Bills. Still want to play him? The Jaguars haven’t allowed a wide receiver more than 37 yards over the last two weeks. On the year, opposing wide receivers averaged 110 yards per game against the Jaguars… as a team. If you still want to play him, there’s nothing anyone can do to talk you out of him. Being as tall as he is, there’s always a chance he wins a jump ball, but even then, what would he finish with? 40 yards and a touchdown? No, thanks.
Zay Jones: We finished the regular season with 74 targets, but just 27 receptions for 316 yards and two touchdowns. How bad is that? No other wide receiver with at least 74 targets finished with less than 35 receptions or 482 yards. He was one of the most inefficient wide receivers we’ve seen in quite some time, so playing him against the Jags doesn’t make much sense.
Dede Westbrook: As of right now, we don’t know if Marqise Lee will play, but seeing he hasn’t practiced in some time, it’s best to just avoid him. The same may be able to be said about Westbrook who has struggled in recent weeks, finishing with 21 yards in Week 15 and then just 9 yards in Week 17. The targets have been there, though, so we can’t just look away. He’s now seen at least seven targets in five of the last six games, finishing with 74 or more yards on three separate occasions. The issue trusting him to get back on track in this game is because the Bills have been solid against wide receivers this year, holding them to just eight touchdowns, which is the second-lowest in the league. With Cole out-producing him, combined with the tough matchup, Westbrook is strictly a tournament play, but he’s probably the Jaguars wide receiver I prefer this week because of the lower ownership.
Keelan Cole: He’s been ‘the’ Jaguars wide receiver to own as of the last five weeks, averaging 95.0 yards and 0.6 touchdowns per game during that span. It definitely helps that he hit plays of 75 and 73 yards, but he’s been seeing more targets because of those plays. He’ll match-up with E.J. Gaines the majority of the time, a cornerback who has 4.4 speed to counter Cole’s long-play ability. We also can’t forget about the strong safety play for the Bills between Micah Hyde and Jordan Poyer, who have played exceptionally well this year, not allowing the big plays. Cole is just a tournament play, and not one I’d go out of my way to play.
Charles Clay: We’re starting to see the Clay we saw at the beginning of the season, as he’s now totaled 27 targets over the last three games, compiling 15 receptions for 169 yards. He’s failed to find the end zone since way back in Week 3, and playing the Jaguars isn’t the best way to get back on track. They have allowed just four tight end touchdowns all season, though that can be somewhat random at times. However, they’ve allowed just 38.5 yards per game to them as well, which ranked as fourth-best in the league. With McCoy ailing and game-script likely going the wrong way, Clay should see at least five targets in this game, putting him on the cash-game radar. Travis Kelce is still the one I’m playing, but if you want a cheaper, lower upside tight end, Clay isn’t the worst of plays.
Marcedes Lewis or James O’Shaughnessy: This is likely a tight end battle you’ll want to avoid, simply because we don’t know who the favorite for targets is anymore. O’Shaughnessy saw six targets in Week 16, which tied a season-high for a Jaguars tight end. Meanwhile, Lewis has seen just eight targets over the last four games combined. Lewis is still playing almost double the snaps of O’Shaughnessy, but production isn’t following. I’d rather avoid both of them and would be okay if this is how I lost.
My prediction: Jaguars 27, Bills 13
Carolina Panthers at New Orleans Saints
Line: NO by 7.0
Cam Newton: Ugh, right before the playoffs, Newton decided to go back to throwing errant passes, similar to the way he did in 2016. His 41 percent completion rate says one thing, but if you watched the game, it was even worse than that. It’s a consistent issue with Newton, who has now thrown 30 interceptions over the last two years. He did come through on his rushing once again, though. He’s now totaled at least 44 yards on the ground in 11 of his last 13 games, which essentially gives him a touchdown lead on all other quarterbacks. He’ll need it against a Saints team that has been one of the better defenses in the league this year. They’ve already played each other twice this year, and here are Newton’s averages in those games: 175.0 passing yards, 1.0 passing touchdowns, 1.5 interceptions, 33.5 rushing yards, and 0.5 rushing touchdowns. I’d say that it’s nice to be playing indoors, but with Newton, the worse the weather, the better for his rushing totals. There are better options in cash, but if you’re playing multiple tournament lineups, you have to throw Newton in a few, simply because he can rush for 100 yards and two touchdowns at any time.
Drew Brees: Can we please stop saying that this was a down-year for Brees? From a touchdown standpoint? Sure, I guess. But it all stems from his lack of pass attempts, as he threw more than 38 pass attempts just three times all season. If you look at his landscape of work, you’d be able to see that if he had thrown the ball 650-plus times again, his numbers would have been right in line with his career numbers. In fact, his 103.9 QB Rating is the fourth-highest mark he’s had over the last 12 years. What about the Panthers? Well, Brees has looked phenomenal against them in all four meetings over the last two seasons, averaging 309.8 yards, 2.5 touchdowns, and 0.5 interceptions. He hasn’t needed to show up and throw for 400 yards because of how well the run-game has been working, but don’t think he doesn’t have it in him. If you wanted to use Brees in cash, I won’t talk you out of it. He should also come with a ceiling that would help you out in a tournament, especially considering the Panthers have allowed nine quarterbacks to throw multiple touchdowns against them.
Christian McCaffrey and Jonathan Stewart: It’s been somewhat of a consistent ride for McCaffrey when it comes to touches, as he’s finished in between 8-14 touches in 13-of-16 games this year. His rushing totals are just a bonus, as most of his fantasy points come via the pass. In PPR formats like DraftKings, 175.1 of his 228.6 PPR points (77 percent) came from his receiving work. The Saints have remained in the middle of the pack against pass-catching running backs, allowing 46.1 yards per game to them, which ranks 15th in the league. The five receiving touchdowns they allowed was the second-most in the league, though. In the two games against the Saints this year, McCaffrey totaled 16 rushing yards in each game, but did rack up 134 receiving yards and a touchdown to keep his fantasy numbers afloat. Expecting him to get plenty of work through the air, he’s in play for cash-game lineups, especially if you’re playing on DraftKings. Stewart shouldn’t be considered, as he was held out of Week 17 with a stiff back. There’s a chance he doesn’t even play in this game, though I think he does. There are games where you can expect volume out of Stewart, but this isn’t one of them. The game-script is likely going to favor McCaffrey, so feel free to completely fade Stewart.
Alvin Kamara and Mark Ingram: The MVP duo of Kamara and Ingram has been something to watch this year. While Ingram seems to be the primary back, Kamara has eeked his way up to the same percentage of snaps. With Kamara being the more efficient one on a per-touch basis, he’s the one most will aim for in DFS, and rightfully so. There’ve been just three occasions where the Panthers have allowed their opponent total more than 16 carries and average more than 4.0 yards per carry. Two of them were to the Saints duo, while the other was to the Patriots running backs. In the Saints’ most recent game against the Panthers, the duo combined for 248 total yards and three touchdowns, so it’s safe to say that you shouldn’t avoid them. The Panthers will have to pick their poison because if they lock-in on the run-game, Brees will team them apart. I have no issue playing either Kamara or Ingram, but would likely prefer Kamara considering the Panthers are much looser against the pass than they are against the run. Just last week we saw Devonta Freeman finish with just 23 yards on 11 carries, but add nine receptions for 85 yards and a touchdown.
Devin Funchess: You can pretty much go through Funchess’ game logs and see that when Newton struggles, he pays a big price. As the No. 1 wide receiver in the offense, he should provide a certain level of consistency, but knowing that he’s finished with 19 yards or less in three of the last nine games is worrisome. While some will put the blame on him, it’s been Newton’s wildly inaccurate passing that’s made him an unpredictable fantasy play. It’s why you don’t want to play him in cash lineups. Not that you’d want to this week anyway, as Marshon Lattimore will be glued to him in coverage. On the year, he’s allowed just a 52.9 percent completion rate in his coverage, and has yet to allow a touchdown. Keep in mind that he’s played against Julio Jones and Mike Evans twice, among others. Knowing that Funchess might see eight targets is enticing, but his ceiling isn’t high enough for me to pay the price, even in tournaments.
Michael Thomas: It’s been good to see Thomas on the field over the last two weeks while trying to work his way through a hamstring injury. He looked better last week and is likely over the injury at this point. Thomas has been the definition of consistency for fantasy owners this year, finishing with at least 65 yards in 13-of-16 games, including 10 of his last 11 games. The Panthers haven’t been able to contain him, either, as he finished with lines of 7/87/1 and 5/70/1 in their two meetings this year. It’s clear that the Saints have James Bradberry’s number, as he’s struggled through much of his sophomore season. Since the Panthers bye in Week 11, they’ve allowed nine wide receivers finish with at least 70 yards against them. Feel free to start Thomas in cash lineups, as well as tournaments.
Ted Ginn: It was starting to look a bit worrisome for Ginn after he saw just five targets in Weeks 13 and 14 combined, but it appears that his limited volume was due to an underlying injury that caused him to miss Week 15. Since returning to the lineup, he’s seen 11 targets in two games, turning them into 109 yards and a touchdown. Ginn has been the prototypical boom-or-bust wide receiver in fantasy this year, finishing as a top-15 wide receiver four times, but also finishing outside the top-50 six times. The Panthers are the team he came from, but the “revenge” is already out of the way. He totaled 44 yards and a touchdown in their first meeting, but then just 27 scoreless yards in their second one. The fact that this game is in a dome is a good thing for his speed, as is the fact that Brees plays better at home. Don’t play Ginn in cash or anything, but I have no issues with him as a tournament play.
Sneaky tournament play: Brandon Coleman
Greg Olsen: So, outside of one game against the Packers, Olsen has finished with less than 30 yards in each of his other five games this season. This puts us in quite the predicament on such a small slate, as we know what he’s capable of. He has seen 27 targets over the last three weeks, telling us that he’s very involved in the game-plan. The issue is that the Saints have been one of the best teams in the league at defending the tight end position, allowing just two top-10 performances all season. In fact, there’s been just three tight ends to finish with more than 37 yards against them (Rob Gronkowski – 116, Vernon Davis – 67, Tyler Higbee – 48). Gronkowski was miraculously the only tight end to record more than three receptions against them this year, which is extremely hard to do. Because of that, Olsen should be reserved for tournaments only, despite the high target totals. He’s a logical solution if you can’t afford Kelce in your tournament lineup, simply because of how few receiving options there are on the Panthers.
Josh Hill: Since Coby Fleener went on IR, Hill has filled his starting slot, though he’s yet to see more than three targets in any one game. In fact, he hasn’t reached 30 yards all season and has scored one touchdown. Feel free to move on to a different tight end, unless you believe Brees will return to his old targeting tight end ways. There is no evidence suggesting that he will, or should for that matter.
My prediction: Saints 27, Panthers 20