It’s the conference championship round of the NFL playoffs, and that leaves only two games to pick players from. One will be played in extreme cold while the other will take place in a dome’s temperature-controlled confines. The touted options below include a three-man stack from the domed game’s host and a wideout from the opposition. The picks are rounded out by a couple of backs from the outdoor contest.
Drew Brees (QB – NO): $5,900 vs. Rams
Michael Thomas (WR – NO): $8,200 vs. Rams
Ted Ginn (WR – NO): $4,300 vs. Rams
All four teams playing Sunday have over/under totals of at least 26 points, per Pinnacle, but the Saints lead the way at 30 points. When the Saints hosted the Rams in Week 9, they hung 45 points on them in a 10-point victory. However, as reminded by last week’s rematch with the Eagles, it is foolish to expect a second game against the same opponent to play out exactly the same. For starters, the Rams were without their top corner, Aqib Talib. The Saints also had their own notable absence, and there’s more on that person to come.
Brees was an unstoppable force the first time these squads squared off, completing 25 of 36 passes for 346 yards, four touchdowns, zero interceptions, and 16 rushing yards on four attempts. The veteran quarterback giving the home crowd something to cheer about is nothing new. He’s demonstrated huge home/road splits with the Saints, and this season was no exception. Brees tossed 21 of his 32 touchdown passes at home this season in just seven games (he sat a meaningless regular-season finale) and threw only one interception compared to four on the road. His passing yards per game skyrocketed from 217.6 on the road to 321.6 at home, according to Pro-Football-Reference, and his quarterback rating swelled from 99.3 on the road to 133.3 inside the Superdome.
Brees had a ton of success in the first meeting thanks to peppering his No. 1 receiver with targets. Thomas, targeted 15 times, hauled in a dozen receptions for 211 yards and a score. The sledding should be a bit tougher this time around with Talib back for the Rams, but Thomas can give back plenty of his previous matchup’s line and still come out with a big fantasy scoring total. In eight games at home this season, he had per-game averages of 10.0 targets, 8.5 receptions, and 102.8 receiving yards with six touchdown receptions. Last week, he thumped the Eagles for a 12-171-1 line on 16 targets in New Orleans. Don’t let Talib’s presence in this rematch deter you from using this year’s receptions leader.
The Saints’ notable absence from the first match I alluded to above is Ginn. The field-stretching receiver was activated from injured reserve in time for their Week 16 matchup with the Steelers, and he turned in a 5-74-0 line on eight targets. He wasn’t active for the meaningless regular-season finale, but he played last week and turned his seven targets into three receptions for 44 yards. His line could have been much better if Brees didn’t throw an interception when underthrowing the speedster on New Orleans’ first offensive play of the game. Ginn has greatly benefited from Brees’ home splits since joining the Saints before the 2017 season. Excluding last week’s playoff game, Ginn has per-game averages of 5.4 targets, 3.9 receptions, 60.4 receiving yards, and 0.4 touchdowns in 10 home games, according to the RotoViz Game Splits App. The Rams are going to have their hands full accounting for New Orleans’ playmakers, and that opens the door for a potential long touchdown to Ginn. Furthermore, he’s more than just a homer-dependent option with a whopping 15 targets in his last two games.
Robert Woods (WR – LAR): $5,700 at Saints
The Rams are 3.5-point underdogs visiting the Saints, and New Orleans is far more giving against the pass than against the run. Football Outsiders (FO) ranked the Saints third defending the run and just 22nd defending the pass in the regular season. The Saints secondary does feature lockdown stud corner Marshon Lattimore, though. Lattimore is a total stud who has played both sides at times and shadowed at other times.
Going back to his rookie season in 2017, he shadowed current Rams receiver Brandin Cooks when he played for the Patriots. According to Jeff Ratcliffe of Pro Football Focus, Lattimore covered Cooks on 31 of 39 routes and held him to just a single catch on three targets. Cooks ripped the Saints for a 6-114-1 line on eight targets in the first meeting. Was Lattimore shadowing him in that one? I wasn’t sure, but thankfully Ian Hartitz of The Action Network could provide some assistance. In a Twitter exchange, he informed me Lattimore and Eli Apple played sides, thus, Lattimore wasn’t shadowing Cooks. If the Saints do the same this time, he approximated Lattimore would be on Cooks about 60% of the time.
Cooper Kupp played the first time the Rams traveled to New Orleans, but he’s injured. The lack of Kupp could provide an incentive for the Saints to use Lattimore in shadow coverage, and Cooks is the obvious target. According to PlayerProfiler, Lattimore traveled into the slot for coverage on just 4.0% of his snaps, and Cooks lined up in the slot just 16.8% of the time. Woods, on the other hand, was in the slot 51.0% of the time. P.J. Williams serves as the Saints’ primary slot corner, and he’s easily the worst of their corners.
Woods had a solid 71 receiving yards on five receptions and a team-high nine targets in the first matchup. He led the team in targets (130), receptions (86), and receiving yards (1,219) while tying for the team lead in receiving touchdowns (six). He also added 157 rushing yards and a touchdown on 19 attempts this year. Woods is easily my favorite of the Rams’ pass-catching options. Furthermore, when factoring in salary, he’s easily my favorite daily fantasy option from the Rams.
James White (RB – NE): $5,400 at Chiefs
Rex Burkhead (RB – NE): $3,400 at Chiefs
I’m going to go ahead and clump the analysis of these two together. White’s far and away the preferred option of this particular duo from New England’s three-headed backfield monster, and I wouldn’t advocate using him and Burkhead together. However, Burkhead’s a nifty pivot who frees up $2,000 to spend on another stud elsewhere.
All of New England’s backs, including the unmentioned Sony Michel, have a favorable matchup. Kansas City coughed up the third-most DraftKings points per game to running backs this year, per Pro-Football-Reference. They were giving both on the ground and through the air. FO ranked them dead last defending the run and 21st defending backs in the passing game in the regular season. Kansas City was rocked for the fifth-most rushing yards (1,815) and tied for the sixth-most rushing touchdowns (14) allowed to backs this season. They also yielded the 10th-most receptions (92) and fifth-most receiving yards (894) to backs in 2018 while tying for the most touchdown receptions (six) surrendered.
The reason these two backs get the nod over Michel is due to my expectation of game flow. If you’re bullish on the Patriots going into Arrowhead and racing out to a lead, Michel is the better option. However, I’m not expecting that to be the case. New England’s offense didn’t travel well this year. At home, they averaged a whopping 33.78 points per game including their 41-28 win over the Chargers last week. On the road, though, that total dropped to 21.63 points per game. To put their home-and-road scoring disparity in further perspective, their road per-game scoring average was about 2.5-points below their single-game low (24 points, a mark hit two times) at Gillette Stadium. The Patriots exceeded 20 points in just half of their away contests this season.
Their road scoring woes line up unfavorably—if you’re a Pats backer—with Kansas City’s defensive splits. The Chiefs held opponents to just 17.44 points per game at Arrowhead this year, including last week’s 31-13 victory against the Colts. Even if you eliminate their two best performances at home against the lowly Bengals (10 points) and Raiders (three points), opponents managed just 20.57 points per game in Kansas City. The Chiefs offense was outstanding at home, averaging 32.22 points per game. In addition to New England’s offense failing to take to the road this year, their defense left a lot to be desired outside of their friendly home confines. Five of their hosting opponents bested 25 points. The only three road opponents they held under 25 points were the Derek Anderson-led Bills, Josh McCown-led Jets, and the Steelers. If you’re keeping track at home, that means two of the three teams the Patriots held under 25 points on the road were quarterbacked by backups.
It’s traditionally unwise to bet against the Patriots this time of year, but this doesn’t look like a favorable matchup for them. I don’t envision their defense keeping Patrick Mahomes and Kansas City’s electric offense in check, and that means they’ll need vintage Brady to keep this close. If that’s how this game plays out, give me their pass-catching backs instead of Michel.