The Primer: Divisional Round DFS Edition (Fantasy Football)
After a low-scoring wild-card weekend, we have what’s anticipated to be a much more point-heavy slate of games during the divisional round. Every game has an over/under of at least 47 points, with two of them well over the 50-point threshold.
This also happens to be the last week where we have four games being played, so sit down and enjoy some football this weekend, because it’ll all be gone before we know it. And then, we’ll be all be patiently waiting for the preseason to come around so that we can watch backups competing for jobs.
For those who are new around these parts, The Primer is something that we do every week during the fantasy season (Weeks 1-16), highlighting every relevant fantasy player from every game, giving you a reason for optimism or a reason to place a player on the bench. We’ll talk about WR/CB matchups, recent snap counts, target shares, and trends that you need to know.
If you’re diving into DFS for the first time, when we reference “cash” it refers to games where if you beat half the field, you win. The examples of those are head-to-heads, 50/50’s, and Double-Ups. Playing in those contests, you’ll want to do all you can to ensure a high floor out of the players in your lineup. When referring to tournaments or GPPs (Guaranteed Prize Pools), only those towards the top portion of entries (typically around top 10 percent) earn winnings. In tournaments, you don’t care about floor as much as you do about a player’s ceiling. Ok, let’s talk some divisional round players.
Indianapolis Colts at Kansas City Chiefs
Line: KC by 6.0
Andrew Luck ($6,200): After coasting by the Texans with a 32-attempt performance, Luck will now go up against an offense that’ll put points on the board. The Chiefs have scored at least 26 points in every game this season, so no matter how well the Colts defense has played, it’s extremely unlikely that Luck and the Colts are able to sit on a lead like they did on the road in Houston. Playing on the road in Kansas City has not been kind to opposing offenses, as the Chiefs allowed just 18.0 points per game at home, compared to a massive 34.6 points per game on the road. It’s not just this year, either. Over the last three years, the Chiefs have allowed more than a touchdown per game less while at home. What does that mean for Luck? Well, when we take a closer look at the quarterbacks they’ve played at home, it kind of makes sense.
|Week||Player||Finish||YPA||Comp||Att||Yds||Pass TDs||Pass INTs||Rush Yds||Rush TDs||FPts|
The only quarterback who finished inside the top-10 was Philip Rivers, which again, makes sense considering he’s the only top-15 quarterback they played at home this season. Pressure has been big for them, as they’ve registered at least two sacks in each of their last 14 games, including three or more in six of their last seven games. As the Texans found out last week, it’s not very easy to get to Luck, who’s now been sacked just nine times over the last 13 games. If they cannot get to him, it’s going to cause issues for their matchups at cornerback and safety. After allowing just three multi-touchdown games in their first seven games, the Chiefs have allowed multiple touchdown passes in eight of their last nine games, including three or more touchdowns in three of their last five games. Knowing that there’s been four different quarterbacks who’ve thrown for 400-plus yards against the Chiefs, Luck is in play for both cash and tournaments.
Patrick Mahomes ($7,000): We get the QB1 back for the divisional round slate of games, so open up your checkbooks, because you’ll have to pay-up if you want him. His $7,000 price-tag is the highest on the slate, but given his record of performances, it’s fair. The Colts defense has played fantastic this year, allowing the 11th-fewest fantasy points to quarterbacks this year. But wait, the NFL 16-game sample size can be very misleading when looking at stats like that. This was something I pointed out in The Primer back during the regular season, so for those who’ve been here before, you may already remember it. Here’s the list of quarterbacks the Colts have played since the start of Week 6: Sam Darnold, Derek Anderson, Derek Carr, Blake Bortles, Blaine Gabbert twice, Ryan Tannehill, Cody Kessler, Deshaun Watson (twice), Dak Prescott, and Eli Manning. After seeing that list, you’d think they should have been a top-five defense against quarterbacks. During that time, they allowed 7-of-12 quarterbacks post at least 17.6 fantasy points. Mahomes himself hasn’t scored less than 18.0 DraftKings points the entire season, though it is worth noting that after he posted 20-plus points in each of the first 13 games, he totaled 18.0 and 18.3 in two of the last three games. Oddly enough, Mahomes has averaged 8.4 less fantasy points while playing at home, which likely comes down to the defense playing much better at home, though as discussed in the Luck paragraph, may have had to do with the competition. The Colts did allow a 70.4 percent completion-rate in the regular season, which was the second-highest mark in the league. A lot of that comes down to the high number of attempts that went to running backs, as they allowed the second-most receptions to the position. Knowing that the Colts have still yet to allow a 100-yard rusher, Mahomes will be the prime resource to move the ball. If you can afford him, you should play him in both cash and tournaments. Knowing that the Chiefs do allow an awful lot of points to running backs, it’s possible that Luck loses some production to the run-game, which makes Mahomes the preferred play.
Marlon Mack ($5,800) and Nyheim Hines ($3,300): After not allowing a 100-yard rusher all season, the Texans allowed Mack to crush them for 148 yards and a touchdown in the wild-card round, as the return of center Ryan Kelly proved to be too much for them to handle. With Kelly in the lineup this year, the Colts averaged 4.48 yards per carry, while they averaged just 3.62 yards per carry without him. With Luck playing the way he has, it’s difficult for opposing front-sevens to key in on the run when they have to worry about getting some sort of pass-rush to the untouchable Luck. Fortunately for Mack, the Colts played with a lead throughout the game and that allowed him to play a season-high 56 snaps while Hines was on the field for a career-low nine snaps. Will that be the case against the Chiefs? Unlikely. The good news is that Mack won’t need to play 50-plus snaps for him to do some damage against this weak Chiefs run-defense. They’ve now allowed at least 105 rushing yards in 10-of-16 games to running backs alone, and what might be even crazier, is that they have allowed 14-of-16 teams to rush for at least 4.18 yards per attempt, including each of the last nine teams. By comparison, the Texans had allowed just two teams all year to rush for more than 3.96 yards per carry. Because of that, there were 14 running backs who have been able to post top-18 numbers against the Chiefs. There were 23 running backs who posted at least 11.8 PPR points against them, which was more than any other team in the NFL. That amounts to almost one-and-a-half running backs per game who hit double-digit fantasy days. That’s also why you shouldn’t write-off Hines after a bad game last week. Despite seeing just the 13th-most targets (117), running backs totaled the fifth-most receiving yards (895) and tied for the most receiving touchdowns (6) against them. They allowed 1.87 yards per target to running backs, which was the most in the league. Hines had seen at least five targets in five straight games before being not being targeted last week, so let’s call it an outlier. You shouldn’t hold grudges. Mack and Hines are both usable in cash, especially when you factor in their prices, as both can clearly hit value. Mack will be the one who’s a lot heavier owned, so Hines might be the better tournament play. Both are playable in all contests.
Damien Williams ($5,100) and Spencer Ware ($4,500): Some are wondering how the Chiefs will handle the backfield with Ware back to full-health, but the contract extension for Williams was rather telling. The Chiefs added two years onto his contract the other week, while Ware is going to be hitting free agency without an extension. With the way Williams has played, he’s the top-option in this backfield. It does need to be noted that Williams has still yet to top 13 carries in his career, so he’s not someone who you should treat like we did Ezekiel Elliott last week. Will the lack of carries hurt Williams in this game? Not likely, as the Colts defense is one of the few defenses who didn’t allow a 100-yard rusher all season. They’ve actually held 14-of-17 teams of running backs under 100 rushing yards this year, while allowing multiple rushing scores just one time. The area to attack the Colts defense is through the passing-game, as they allowed the second-most receptions (110) to running backs and the seventh-most fantasy points through the air to them. It’s unlikely we see one of either Williams or Ware rack-up the yardage on the ground in this game, so you want to chase the pass-game work. Prior to Week 17, Williams had seen 18 targets in his last three games, while Ware has seen more than three targets twice all season. Ware is capable in the pass-game, as he’s caught 59-of-71 passes (83.1 percent) for 676 yards (9.52 yards per target) and two touchdowns over the course of his career. Williams is the safer play, especially in cash formats, as he should be locked into 13-15 touches with more work in the passing-game. Ware might be a sneaky tournament play, as he’s now had almost a full month of rest from his injured hamstring and has a three-down skill-set. He’s also the one who I’d say is better on the goal-line, though we mustn’t forget about that Williams contract extension. If Ware finished with more points than Williams in this game, it shouldn’t shock you, though I wouldn’t bet on it in cash. Ware is strictly a tournament play who might just pay off.
T.Y. Hilton ($6,700): Earlier in the season, the Chiefs were actually quite solid against opposing wide receivers. Through the first 10 games, they allowed just three top-24 wide receivers against them (JuJu Smith-Schuster, A.J. Green, Keenan Allen). Over their final six games, they allowed eight top-24 performances, including two of them to Jordy Nelson. Over the final four weeks of the season, they allowed the sixth-most fantasy points to wide receivers and that’s while playing against Lamar Jackson and Derek Carr in two of those games. With Luck coming to town, we should expect some fireworks in the secondary. Hilton moves all over the formation, so you won’t have one cornerback matchup to watch with him, but it’s important to know the Chiefs allowed 65 passing plays of 20-plus yards this season, the most in the NFL (closest was 61). Of the wide receivers who saw at least 20 targets of 20 yards or more, Hilton ranked No. 1 in catch-rate, as he hauled in 58.3 percent of those targets. It doesn’t hurt to know that Hilton has seen at least eight targets in seven of his last eight games and hasn’t totaled less than 61 yards since way back in Week 8. In a game that has the highest over/under on the slate, it’s impossible to pass-up Hilton at his low cost of just $6,700. It really feels like he should cost around $8,000 given his recent production and the Chiefs deficiencies in the secondary. He’s someone you should have no issue paying for in cash and clearly has enough upside for tournaments.
Dontrelle Inman ($4,800): Another week goes by and we have another solid performance from Inman as the Colts No. 2 receiver. His price is up a bit this week but is $4,800 a lot for a receiver who’s caught 13 receptions for 176 yards and three touchdowns over the last three weeks. He’s seemingly always in the 4-6 target territory, so he’s a tough-sell for cash lineups given his increase but knowing it’s possible we see Luck throw the ball 40-plus times, Inman is more attractive than you might think. Here’s a list of the games the Colts allowed 20 or more points to their opponent (Chiefs have scored at least 26 points in every game), along with how many pass attempts Luck had in them:
|Week||Pts Allowed||Pass Attempts|
That’s an average of 44.2 pass attempts per game, which means there would be plenty of targets to go around. The Chiefs decided to bench Orlando Scandrick over the last two games of the regular season, instead playing the undrafted rookie Charvarius Ward in his place. He’s allowed 13-of-17 passing for 171 yards in his coverage, so he’s nothing to be worried about. After starting the year strong, Steven Nelson has allowed 20-of-30 passing for 248 yards and three touchdowns over his last six games. Inman isn’t someone who’s a must-play in cash, but he is someone you can throw into a few tournament lineups.
Zach Pascal ($3,000): If you look at the chart in Inman’s notes, you’ll see that there’s potential for massive targets to go around in this game for the Colts. Pascal is playing 50-60 percent of the snaps over the last two months, so he’s involved more than most think. He’s now seen 19 targets over the last five games, which is more than enough to hit value at his absolute minimum salary. Pascal moves all over the field, so there’s not one matchup he’ll get, but when you’re looking for some low-owned options from this projected shootout, Pascal should be on your list of tournament options.
Chester Rogers ($3,700): He’s back to playing a near full-time role in the slot for the Colts, as he’s played at least 51.4 percent of the snaps in each of the last four games, including 60 percent of the snaps in their win over the Texans. Knowing they had that game in the bag throughout, it’s a good sign. The issue for Rogers here is that his matchup is likely the worst on the field, as Kendall Fuller is the cornerback they traded for last offseason to help cover some of the slot deficiencies they’ve had. On the year, he’s allowed just 11.6 yards per reception and two touchdowns on 98 targets in coverage. Rogers isn’t the type of receiver you play thinking he’ll go bananas, but rather someone you’re playing because of a high-floor. He’s not the worst play at $3,700 in cash when you factor in expected pass attempts, but knowing the options on this slate, he’s not a top option. I’d prefer to play someone with a higher ceiling, even if they have a slightly lower floor.
Tyreek Hill ($7,400): It appeared like Hill finally got over his injury in Week 17 when he tagged the Raiders for 5/101/1, and when you factor in the week off between games, he’ll be ready to rock against the Colts. There will be a lot of worried DFS players to pay-up for a wide receiver against the Colts after what they did to DeAndre Hopkins last week, but you shouldn’t be one of them. Not only was Watson completely off his game, but Hopkins suffered a Grade 3 shoulder sprain in the first half that prevented him from being heavily involved in the offense. Andy Reid has moved Hill around the offense as he sees fit, as there are game where he’s running just 28 percent of his routes from the slot, while there’s others where he’s running more than 60 percent of his routes from the slot. The Colts don’t have a cornerback that runs a sub-4.5-second 40-yard-dash, which could be a big problem when trying to defend the world-class speedster. Oddly enough, the Colts allowed just four plays of 40-plus yards this season, which ranks as the best in the league, and that’s likely due to their zone-heavy scheme. Hill should be able to find holes in the defense, but we may not see the long plays we’re accustomed to. The Colts allowed the third-fewest points per game to wide receivers this year, though a big part of that has to do with the fact that they saw the fewest targets (258) against them. The completion percentage and points per target they allowed were right around the league average, so it’s not like they’re a clear avoid like the Vikings/Jaguars were. Hill hasn’t seen fewer than seven targets in six of his last seven games, so volume isn’t really a concern. Hill is safe enough for you to play in cash and obviously offers you game-breaking upside in tournaments, but knowing the Colts have limited the big plays, would it make sense to have a little bit lesser exposure in tournaments? It’s so hard to suggest that in a game that has a 56.5-point total, but when looking at all the facts and some of the other high-end options on the slate, it may be the right decision. You’ll want some exposure because a 30-point outburst is always in the realm of possibilities for him.
Sammy Watkins ($4,500): As of right now, we have no clue on whether Watkins will play in this game, as he was essentially shut down the last month-and-a-half, hoping he’d be ready for the playoffs. If he does play, the matchup isn’t great for him. The Colts have required receivers to get it done over-and-over against them, as they allowed just three 100-yard performances all year and just six receivers to record more than 74 yards. Of the six wide receivers who finished as top-20 options against them, five of them had at least six receptions. Watkins hit that mark just three times all season and will likely be on some sort of snap count if he does return. That doesn’t even count the risk of re-injury when slotting him into your lineup. Yes, you need to take risks in order to win tournaments, but over his career, Watkins hasn’t been very good when playing through his foot issues. Knowing that the Colts allowed just one top-12 performance against them all season, it’s easy for us to fade Watkins, especially in cash lineups.
Chris Conley ($3,900): Despite Watkins missing the last five games, Conley failed to record more than three catches or 54 yards in any game. He also failed to score in each of the last four games. The appeal of his role on the team is greatly increased when Watkins is on the field because it allows him to play the slot role a lot more often. With Watkins in the lineup, Conley ran 54 percent of his routes from the slot. With him out of the lineup, we saw that number dip to 45 percent. Not crazy, but notable. To know that Conley has been held to 25 yards or less in 14-of-16 games with the way Mahomes played this year says a lot, so he’s essentially a touchdown-or-bust option. That’ll work in tournament lineups, but he’s obviously someone to avoid in cash. With Mahomes’ touchdown upside, I wouldn’t cross him off tournament lineups, but knowing that Conley could wind-up with 20 yards and a touchdown doesn’t exactly win you a tournament. If you’re putting together dozens of lineups, get some exposure, but not much.
Demarcus Robinson ($4,100): Fun fact: Chris Conley topped 25 yards twice this season. Robinson has topped 30 yards on five separate occasions. That’s despite Robinson playing 382 fewer snaps than Conley. So, when you see Robinson with a higher price than Conley, it kind of makes sense. If Watkins is held out, Robinson should be someone who gets a lot more appealing, as he’d be a full-time player alongside Hill and Conley. However, if Watkins is active and plays, Robinson moves out of the starting lineup and becomes nothing more than a hail-mary option. At $4,100, that’s not a chance you’d like to take. But if we pretend that Watkins is out, Robinson has played well against zone defenses this year (Colts are very zone-heavy), catching 11-of-16 targets for 130 yards and two touchdowns. He’d be someone to consider in tournaments if Watkins is held out, though it’s impossible to trust him in cash considering he’s topped four targets just once all season.
Eric Ebron ($5,500) and Mo Alie-Cox ($2,500): A week after being considered the must-play at tight end, it’s going to be hard to move off Ebron when he goes against the Chiefs this week. They’ve been a matchup to target with tight ends all season, allowing the most fantasy points to the position. There’s really no statistical category they did well against tight ends, as they allowed a 70 percent catch-rate (12th-highest), 8.7 yards per target (5th-highest), a touchdown every 12.0 targets (4th-most often), and 2.07 PPR points per target (4th-highest). Knowing that Ebron has seen at least six targets in 10-of-17 games is promising, but it’s noteworthy that he’s seen “just” 20 targets over his last four games. Part of that has to do with the fact that Luck threw the ball 35 times or less in three of them, so let’s take a look at the games where Luck threw the ball 40-plus times over the year.
|Luck Att||Ebron Tgts|
We’d be wrong to assume the Colts don’t throw the ball 40-plus times this week, so we should be locked into five-plus targets for Ebron with a double-digit ceiling, something that’s rare among tight ends. They’re making you pay-up for him but he’s likely worth his cost of admission in cash lineups. The question becomes – do you have enough to get up to Travis Kelce? The return of Eric Berry gave the Chiefs some hope in Week 16, but he’s still dealing with issues and may not even be available. There’s not much to be worried about with Ebron this week, making him playable in all formats. Knowing how bad the Chiefs have been against tight ends, Alie-Cox even offers some minimally-priced touchdown upside, though he’s not a preferred option.
Travis Kelce ($7,000): His price is higher than all but two wide receivers on this slate, so they’re making you pay-up to get the stud tight end. Despite the Colts playing what might be the easiest schedule against quarterbacks, they still allowed 10 top-10 tight end performances against them in 16 games. Let me repeat that… 10-of-16 tight ends finished as top-10 options against the Colts defense and that doesn’t even include James O’Shaughnessy‘s TE12 finish, Tyler Eifert‘s TE13 finish, or Jordan Reed‘s TE16 finish. Six of those tight ends were able to post at least 73 yards, so it wasn’t all touchdowns, either. There wasn’t a team who allowed more receptions (103) or yards (1,194) to tight ends this season, though they did allow just five touchdowns. Here’s the best part for those who want to pay-up for Kelce: The Colts played just two top-10 tight ends all year, so their schedule wasn’t littered with studs. Kelce is worth his $7,000 price-tag when you take tight end volatility into consideration. The fact that the Colts allowed a league-high 79.8 percent completion-rate (nobody else over 74.5 percent) to tight ends and that Kelce has seen at least five targets in every game, including at least nine targets in eight of the last nine games should get you excited about the possibilities. He’s both cash-game and tournament viable.
Colts ($2,100): The Colts defense turned out to be a great value on the road last week, though you shouldn’t be expecting a repeat performance against the Chiefs. Their opponents averaged the fewest points in the league in DraftKings scoring, as they’ve allowed Mahomes to be sacked more than twice just three times all season. There was just one game all year in which they allowed their opponent to finish with more than 5.0 fantasy points and that was against the Chargers, who are one of the best defenses in the league. Yes, the Colts have been rock-solid as a defensive unit, but in case you missed it, here’s a list of the quarterbacks they’ve played since the start of Week 6: Sam Darnold, Derek Anderson, Derek Carr, Blake Bortles, Blaine Gabbert twice, Ryan Tannehill, Cody Kessler, Deshaun Watson (twice), Dak Prescott, and Eli Manning. Outside of hoping for a pick-six in a tournament lineup, the Colts are a no-go this week. They’ll likely have the lowest ownership, so they’re not the absolute worst option.
Chiefs ($2,500): I’ve talked about how much better the Chiefs defense has played at home and it shows in their DraftKings scoring, too. They’ve averaged 11.9 points per game at home, while totaling a miniscule 4.6 points per game on the road. The issue is that they’ve had a really soft home schedule to this point, but Luck is no walk in the park. He’s been sacked just nine times in his last 13 games, which is quite ridiculous, and even the Texans pass-rush couldn’t get to him a single time last week. The Chiefs have tallied at least three sacks in seven of their last nine games, which means something must give. From what I’ve seen, it’s not likely to be the Colts offensive line. They Chiefs have also allowed at least 24 points in five of their last six games, so they don’t exactly present a high-floor, either. They’re a tournament play only, and not a great one.
Dallas Cowboys at Los Angeles Rams
Line: LAR by 7.0
Dak Prescott ($5,200): He couldn’t get much going through the air against the Seahawks last week but made up for it in a big way when he rushed for 29 yards and a touchdown, turning him into the No. 3 quarterback on last week’s slate of games. He’s likely going to have to find success on the ground once again this week, as the Rams defense has played much differently with cornerback Aqib Talib on the field. In the eight games with Talib, they’ve allowed 164-of-254 passing (64.6 percent) for an average of 209.5 yards, 0.88 touchdowns, and 1.5 interceptions per game. In the eight games without him, they allowed 182-of-277 passing (65.7 percent) for an average of 299.8 yards, 2.88 touchdowns, and 0.75 interceptions per game. That’s quite the difference. In case you didn’t know, Talib is going to be playing in this game. In the eight games with him, they haven’t allowed a quarterback more than 17.1 DraftKings points. The Rams were one of six teams in the NFL who didn’t allow a single rushing touchdown to an opposing quarterback, but it’s important to note that the Seahawks hadn’t allowed one coming into last week’s game, either. Of the 531 pass attempts against the Rams, a league-high 24.5 percent of them were directed at tight ends, which likely comes down to the lack of firepower at linebacker for the Rams. Certain defenses invite targets to certain positions and the wide receivers didn’t see a whole lot of them against the Rams, which doesn’t bode well for Prescott, as that’s been his bread and butter with Cooper/Gallup. The Rams opponents average just 60.0 plays per game, which is essentially the same thing as the Seahawks had allowed, but the Cowboys are a seven-point underdog in this game and are projected for just 21.5 points. Prescott is not an advisable cash-game play and he’s unlikely to provide enough upside for tournaments, though on a four-game slate, you shouldn’t totally cross him off if you’re making loads of lineups due to his rushing upside.
Jared Goff ($5,500): It was good to see Goff bounce back in Week 17 while throwing four touchdowns on just 26 attempts against the 49ers, as he’d been in a slump ever since the team’s bye in Week 12. In that time, he threw just two touchdowns to six interceptions and failed to throw for more than 216 yards in 3-of-4 games. Hopefully this bye week did the opposite this time around. The Cowboys defense has allowed at least 7.0 yards per attempt to 12 of the last 14 teams they’ve played, though the issue has been volume. During that time, there’s been just five quarterbacks who’ve thrown the ball more than 34 times. The play-counts were the reason why, as the Cowboys held their opponents to just 60.8 plays per game, the seventh-fewest in the NFL. The catch here is that the Rams held their opponents to just 60.0 plays per game, the third-lowest in the league. With both teams averaging more than 64.0 offensive plays per game, something has to give. The seven-point spread indicates that the Rams should have the advantage here. Of the 10 quarterbacks who threw the ball at least 29 times against the Cowboys, nine of them finished with at least 15.5 fantasy points, including five of them with 20.8 or more. There’s been just one game where they allowed more than two touchdown passes and because of that, there’s been just one top-eight performance against them all season, which was Marcus Mariota who threw for 240 yards and two touchdowns, but also rushed for 32 yards and a touchdown. Bottom line, this is a solid matchup, though not great. Goff is very playable in cash lineups, especially when you factor in his very affordable $5,500 salary that ranks sixth on the slate, in front of only Nick Foles and Prescott. He’s a better cash-game play than tournament, however, as he offers nothing on the ground, and the Cowboys have held 16-of-17 quarterbacks to two or less touchdowns through the air.
Ezekiel Elliott ($8,200): Looking through Elliott’s game-log, you can just marvel at how many touches he’s been getting. He hasn’t fallen below 21 touches since way back in Week 7, which was before Cooper was on the roster. Any time you get a running back who’s guaranteed 20-plus touches, he’s someone who needs to be addressed in cash-game lineups. When you factor in that he’s one of the best backs in the game, he’s practically a must-play. The Rams defense does nothing to deter you from playing him, either. They’ve now allowed at least 100 rushing yards to seven of their last nine opponents, including multiple running back touchdowns in four of those games. While they’ve allowed the eighth-most rushing yardage (1,635) on the year and the fourth-most yards per carry (4.87), they have been much stingier to pass-catching running backs, allowing just 4.46 yards per target to them, which ranked as the third-lowest mark in the league. They’re one of two teams (Titans the other) who allowed fewer yards per target than yards per carry, which is just insane. Still, over the last three games against the Rams, we’ve seen both Wendell Smallwood and Alfred Morris finish as top-12 options against them. We’ve seen just one running back total more than 20 touches against the Rams this year, and that was Alvin Kamara who totaled 116 total yards and three touchdowns. Elliott is a must-play in cash and can be safely played in tournament lineups as well. If forced to choose one between Gurley or Elliott, I suppose it’d be Elliott in cash considering he has no healthy concerns, but I’d try to find a way to play both.
Todd Gurley ($8,000) and C.J. Anderson ($4,800): There are some who’ll be worried about starting Gurley due to his absence in Weeks 16 and 17, but you shouldn’t be one of them. He essentially got a month off to rest his knee, which is more than enough time to heal a sprain. His matchup with the Cowboys isn’t great on paper, as they allowed the ninth-fewest PPR points to running backs this year, though it’s possible he’s catching them at the right time. Over the last four weeks, they’ve allowed 394 rushing yards on 96 carries (4.10 yards per carry) with five rushing touchdowns, while allowing another 28 receptions for 209 yards and a touchdown through the air. When Gurley is active, he’s averaged a massive 26.3 touches per game, so there’s little reason to think C.J. Anderson cuts into his production unless he re-injures himself. The odds of that happening are less-likely than the ownership will suggest, meaning Anderson should be a fade for you in both cash and tournaments. As for Gurley, he would’ve been considered an absolute must-play at $8,000 any week during the regular season, so knowing we’re on a four-game slate with that being his price, he needs to be played. If forced to choose one between Gurley or Elliott, I suppose it’d be Elliott in cash considering he has no healthy concerns, but I’d try to find a way to play both.
Amari Cooper ($6,500): After three low-output weeks to close out the regular season, Cooper popped-off against the Seahawks, recording his third 100-yard game with the Cowboys. They didn’t have the talent in the secondary to hang with him and their heavy-zone scheme allowed Cooper to find holes to sit in throughout the game. The Rams play sides, like the Seahawks, but they’re in man-coverage about 60 percent of the time. Cooper will mix-and-match with all three cornerbacks from the Rams but should see Aqib Talib most of the time. He definitely had Cooper’s number during his time in Denver, as Cooper finished with just 2/9/0, 1/9/1, and 4/39/1 in the three games against them with Talib on the field. While Talib didn’t shadow Cooper in those games, he was a part of the unit that shut him down. Prior to allowing the 49ers wide receivers to score two touchdowns in Week 17 against them, the Rams hadn’t allowed a wide receiver touchdown in four straight games. In fact, the Rams have allowed just four wide receiver touchdowns in the eight games with Talib on the field, compared to 16 touchdowns in the eight games without him. Cooper isn’t someone you should be playing in cash this week, but he’s also not someone you should scratch-off your tournament list, as he’s just as talented as any of the Rams cornerbacks.
Michael Gallup ($4,000): This is not a good matchup for the rookie receiver who’s now seen at least six targets in five of his last seven games. He was able to find the end zone last week, but 18 yards on the Seahawks secondary isn’t exactly awe-inspiring. Gallup rarely travels into the slot, which is an issue because it means he’ll be locked-up with veteran cornerbacks Marcus Peters and Aqib Talib for 90 percent of the game. While Peters struggled to shadow opposing No. 1 wide receivers while Talib was out, he’s been much better while playing sides with Talib in the lineup. In the eight games with Talib, he’s allowed just 16-of-28 passing for 168 yards and one touchdown while intercepting two passes, which is good enough for a 56.8 QB Rating in his coverage. Gallup is an easy fade for me in cash this week and not even someone you should be playing in many tournaments, either.
Cole Beasley ($3,700): Since Cooper’s arrival, Beasley has totaled four or less targets in 5-of-10 games while maxing out at seven targets, so it’s often going to be hard for the little slot receiver to strike solid value in DFS. On top of that, the Rams slot cornerback, Nickell Robey-Coleman, has been playing well the entire season, allowing just a 62.7 percent completion-rate, 7.8 yards per reception, and two touchdowns on 59 targets. That amounts to just 4.90 yards per target and a touchdown every 29.5 targets in coverage. Of the 230 cornerbacks/safeties who saw at least 30 targets in coverage, his 4.90 yards per target ranks as the third-best. Because of that and the lack of targets against the Rams (just 17.6 per game, the fifth-lowest mark in the league), Beasley isn’t someone you should be targeting in DFS this week.
Tavon Austin ($3,000): Here’s an interesting revenge-game narrative for Austin, who was released by the Rams last offseason. The Allen Hurns injury should’ve allowed for more snaps, but he played just 9-of-74 against the Seahawks, so it may be a pipedream. But still, knowing the Rams have been tough on wide receivers with Talib back in the lineup, why not get creative if you’re calling the plays for the Cowboys? Scott Linehan hasn’t showed much creativity with Austin, as he’s touched the ball just 16 times through eight games to this point, but I felt the need to bring him up as a sub-one-percent owned player who has the one-play upside we look for at minimum pricing and might see an extended role against his former team.
Brandin Cooks ($5,600): The Rams have played five games since their bye in Week 12, and in those games without Cooper Kupp, the target distribution has looked like this: Woods 48, Cooks 36, Reynolds 34, Everett 27, and Higbee 15. To know that Cooks has received just two more targets than Reynolds is somewhat shocking, but Cooks performances haven’t been good enough to warrant more, as he’s tallied just 24/285/0 in those games while Reynolds has totaled 18/249/1. Cooks did close out the season on a high-note, tallying 62 yards and two touchdowns against the 49ers, though the Cowboys secondary is a bit more talented than them. Cooks will see Byron Jones a majority of the game, who just happens to be the Cowboys best cornerback on the roster. He’s got 4.43-second speed, too, so it’s not as if Cooks will be able to dog-walk him down the field, either. It is worth noting that Jones’ play down the stretch has faded a bit, as he’s allowed 18-of-27 passing for 311 yards and three touchdowns over the last five games (142.7 QB Rating), compared to just 24-of-49 passing for 264 yards and zero touchdowns through the first 12 games of the season (65.3 QB Rating). Is it possible that Cooks is catching Jones at the right time? You don’t need to bet on him in cash lineups knowing he’s tallied 62 yards or less in each of his last five games in what might be the toughest matchup among the Rams wide receivers, but he’s someone who is in-play for tournaments.
Robert Woods ($5,900): He ended a 14-game streak with 61 or more yards in Week 17 when he finished with just 24 yards on a season-low three targets. You don’t want to look too much into Week 17 games, so we’ll just continue our high-floor ways with Woods. He’s set to match-up with Anthony Brown in the slot this week, a cornerback who’s been consistently below-average in each of his three years in the NFL. Over a span of 209 career targets in coverage, he’s allowed 15 touchdowns and a 104.1 QB Rating. The Seahawks chose not to take advantage of the matchup, as they targeted Doug Baldwin just six times all game, but you already know their play-calling was terrible. Knowing that Woods has tallied at least seven targets in 13-of-16 games this year, you should feel confident with this matchup. The Cowboys only allowed four wide receivers to top 17 PPR points all season, but they did allow 14 of them to score at least 12.6 PPR points, highlighting what should be a solid floor for a player who we should project for eight-plus targets. The price for Woods is solid at $5,900, though it’s difficult to justify playing him when Keenan Allen has a better matchup and is just $500 more. Woods is likely a better cash option than tournament one, though on a four-game slate, he’s still appealing in tournaments.
Josh Reynolds ($4,500): There was a rough patch for Reynolds from Weeks 13-16 where he caught just 12-of-26 targets for 169 yards and no touchdowns, but then bounced back in Week 17 with a four-catch, 55-yard, two-touchdown game against the 49ers. It goes to show that anyone in the Rams passing-attack can go-off any week, and Reynolds now has two multi-touchdown games on the season. His matchup this week will be against second-year cornerback Chidobe Awuzie, who should be considered an average cornerback in coverage. He’s allowed a 63.3 percent catch-rate, 13.5 yards per reception, and a touchdown every 22.5 targets in coverage. He hasn’t allowed a touchdown in his coverage since back in Week 11 and has been the Cowboys best cornerback over the last two months. There was just one wide receiver who posted a multi-touchdown game against the Cowboys this year and that was Golden Tate, a slot-heavy receiver, way back in Week 4. The Cowboys allowed the seventh-fewest PPR points to wide receivers this year, but they also faced the 10th-fewest targets. They kept most plays in front of them, allowing just 12 wide receiver touchdowns on the season, though they did allow at least one wide receiver touchdown in six of their last seven games. Reynolds isn’t a yardage machine, but at his cost, he doesn’t really need to be. Knowing he’s seen just two fewer targets than Cooks over the last five weeks, combined with a salary that’s $1,100 cheaper, you just might consider him in cash lineups, though he’s not a must-play. At his price, he’s also in-play for tournaments, as he doesn’t even need multiple touchdowns to pay off.
Blake Jarwin ($3,400): We talked about not playing Jarwin last week and his three-target, 15-yard performance suggests we were spot-on. He’s still seen 28 targets over the last five games, so he’s back on the radar this week against a Rams defense that’s struggled defending tight ends at times this year. Another thing to monitor is whether safety Lamarcus Joyner will be available, as he’s dealing with an ankle injury that caused him to miss the regular-season finale. There were just two teams that allowed more yardage to tight ends than the Rams this year (Colts, Texans), though it should also be noted that they faced the second-most targets to the position. The 61.5 percent completion-rate wasn’t very good (5th-worst), but when opponents did connect, it was for a rock-solid 13.4 yards per reception, which was the third-highest mark in the league. When looking at the dispersal of targets against the Rams, opponents targeted their tight ends a league-high 24.5 percent of the time, as the targets are just funneled to the mediocre linebackers. Jarwin is still priced somewhat high given the lack of proven history, making him a tough-sell in cash lineups, as most want to pay-up for one of the top options, or lock in a minimally-priced tight end who’s got a solid shot at a touchdown. Knowing the Rams did allow seven top-12 tight end performances against them this year, including three TE1 performances (the best performance of the week), Jarwin is on tournament radars.
Gerald Everett ($2,700) and Tyler Higbee ($2,600): If you’ve been paying attention to the Rams tight end situation, you know there’s an opportunity with the weak pricing of Everett this week. After being held to 24 snaps or less over each of the first 12 games, Everett has played an average of 41.5 snaps the last four games, including back-to-back season-highs of 45 and 51 snaps the last two weeks. Even better is that he’s been getting targeted, too. After failing to top five targets in any of the first 12 games, Everett saw at least six targets in three of the last four regular season games, catching at least four passes in each of them. He’s still yet to top 49 yards in any one game, but that’s the best part because we know the big-play ability is there, as he had three plays of 39 yards or longer in 2017. Of the passing production allowed to the Cowboys’ opponents, 25.9 percent of it went to tight ends, the fourth-highest percentage in the league. They allowed an average of 5.5 receptions, 57.4 yards, and 0.44 touchdowns per game to tight ends, good enough for the eighth-most PPR points per game. With the combination of Cooks, Woods, and Reynolds running around, Everett could be your knight in shining armor at the end of the day, especially when you factor in his miniscule $2,700 price-tag. If you’re looking to save at the tight end position, he’s the best value at the position. As for Higbee, he’s seen just eight targets over the last four games, while Everett has seen 23 of them, clearly making him the lesser option that you get virtually no discount on, making him a fade outside of a sub-one-percent-owned option in a massive tournament.
Cowboys ($2,200): The road hasn’t been kind to the Cowboys defense, as they’ve averaged a ridiculously-low 3.8 DraftKings points per game while away from Dallas. A large part of that has to do with them totaling just 13 sacks in eight games, which isn’t going to get it done against McVay’s offense. The Cowboys defense has totaled 4.0 points or less in four of their last five games, so playing them in a game they’re traveling to Los Angeles to play the Rams who are coming off a bye week doesn’t seem to make much sense. Goff has been sacked just four times in the last three games and has just two games all season with multiple interceptions. This is not a week to get cute and save money by playing the Cowboys in cash. I don’t even like them in tournaments this week.
Rams ($3,000): Of the eight teams playing this week, six of them are playing against teams who rank top-six in points allowed to opposing DSTs. The Cowboys allowed the 14th-most fantasy points to their opponents this year, as we’ve seen Prescott sacked at least three times in 12-of-17 games this year, including five or more sacks on four separate occasions. The Rams defense has been generally the same, whether home or away, averaging 10.3 DraftKings points per game while at home. The duo of Aaron Donald and Ndamukong Suh up the middle is going to be the thing to watch, as backup center Joe Looney has been unsuccessful when it comes to filling Travis Frederick‘s shoes. Knowing how many elite offenses are on this slate, the Rams defense is likely the best play on the board if you can find the $3,000 to pay for them.
Los Angeles Chargers at New England Patriots
Line: NE by 4.0
***DISCLAIMER*** As of now, there is snow in the forecast for this game. It would severely impact the players from a DFS standpoint, particularly in cash games. If you have a question prior to game-time, feel free to ask me on Twitter @MikeTagliereNFL once we have more information.
Philip Rivers ($5,700): Did you know the Patriots defense allowed the sixth-fewest points per game (20.3) this year? Even better than that, they allowed just 16.6 points per game at home, which was the second-best mark in the league. While there was some bad competition mixed in there, they also played Andrew Luck, Patrick Mahomes, and Aaron Rodgers in that sample. Fortunately for Rivers, each of those quarterbacks were each able to post at least 19.2 fantasy points and finish as a top-12 quarterback in those games. Still, you have to respect what the Patriots have done since their bye week, allowing just one quarterback to finish as a top-15 option. Looking at the recent history of the Patriots defense in the playoffs, they haven’t allowed an opponent more than 20 points on their home field since back in 2014. There’s been five games played at Gillette Stadium since that time with the Patriots winning by an average of 13.8 points. The reason for optimism, though, is because the Patriots haven’t generated a great pass-rush this season, as their measly 4.63 percent sack-rate was the second-lowest in the league. When kept clean, Rivers produced a 115.1 QB Rating, which was 31.3 points higher than the mark when he was under pressure. If the Patriots can’t get to him (Rivers was sacked just once the last two games against the Broncos and Ravens, two top-12 pass-rushes), Rivers should be able to post respectable fantasy numbers. The issue with trusting him in cash is that he’s now gone three straight games throwing for 181 yards or less and has thrown just four touchdowns in his last five games. His last four games were his worst four games of the season, according to his quarterback rating. It’s very possible Rivers turns out to be playable in cash, but he’s a bit too risky for me considering his recent play. In tournaments, however, he’s one of my favorites.
Tom Brady ($5,600): It’s playoff time, which just happens to be the time Brady owns. Over the last four years, Brady has played in 11 playoff games (ridiculous, right?) and has totaled at least 35 pass attempts in each game. He’s also thrown for at least two touchdowns in 10 of them, including each of the last six games. He’s thrown for at least 287 yards in 10 of them as well, so his $5,600 price-tag doesn’t quite seem right. The Chargers defense has been one of the best in the NFL this year, and turned up the heat against Lamar Jackson last week, sacking him a season-high seven times. Prior to that game, the Chargers hadn’t registered more than three sacks since back in Week 10. Still, you’d have to go all the way back to Week 3 to find the last time the Chargers allowed a 300-yard passer or a quarterback with more than two touchdown passes. In fact, they’ve held nine of the last 10 quarterbacks they’ve played to 7.1 yards per attempt or less. They’ve allowed just 6.60 yards per attempt and 15 passing touchdowns in their last 13 games combined, while intercepting 10 passes. Going through Brady’s games this year, he’s been hit-or-miss, though it’s been more misses than anything. Prior to throwing four touchdowns against the Jets in Week 17, he’d thrown one or zero touchdowns in 7-of-10 games. This comes down to whether you believe in Brady’s magic during the playoffs, as it’s really hard not to. When breaking down the matchup on paper, Brady should consider himself lucky to throw for 275 yards and two touchdowns, but knowing that he offers nothing on the ground, it’s tough to play him. But again, looking at what he’s done in the last 11 playoff games is special and we must account for that. He’s not someone I’ll be playing in cash lineups, as there’s better options on the slate, but I will say he’s a better cash option than tournament one if you wanted to play him.
Melvin Gordon ($6,200) and Austin Ekeler ($4,500): I did a double-take when I saw Gordon’s price at just $6,200 this week, as it’s by far the lowest price of the season for him. You shouldn’t have been shocked to see him struggle get much done against the Ravens, but there was something positive that came out of that game. He touched the ball 18 times, which was a huge bump from his last few games where the Chargers seemed to be easing him back into the offense. Touches were something that were hard to come by for many running backs against the Patriots, as no running back touched the ball more than 22 times against them. Running backs averaged just 25.3 touches per game against them, which ranked as the ninth-fewest in the NFL. It’s odd because the Patriots were far from an elite defense, allowing 4.78 yards per carry (6th-most) and 6.57 yards per target (13th-most) to running backs. The reason they ranked in the top-12 for fantasy points allowed is due to lack of touches and lack of touchdowns, as they allowed just six rushing touchdowns on the season. The Chargers have to commit to the run in this game. Why? Against the eight teams who total at least 20 carries against them, the Patriots allowed 5.16 yards per carry and five rushing touchdowns. In the eight games they didn’t face at least 20 carries, they allowed just 4.15 yards per carry and one rushing touchdown. When healthy, Gordon has totaled at least 15 carries in 9-of-10 games, so when you add in Ekeler’s work, we should see them hit that 20-carry mark needed. At just $6,200, Gordon is a steal given his role on the team as someone who can play all three downs and gets all goal-line work. He’s playable in cash and has the upside in tournaments you’re looking for. Ekeler is someone who’s in play for tournaments only, though his price seems way too high considering the risk you’re taking. Even if you want exposure, limit it with him.
Sony Michel ($4,700), James White ($4,900), and Rex Burkhead ($3,600): The three-headed monster is going to be a tough one to figure out this week, as Michel’s been playing poorly as of late, Burkhead is coming off his two best games of the year, and White’s always played well in the postseason. Despite not playing his best football, Michel has at least 13 carries in each of the last six games but hasn’t been used in the passing-game at all. Burkhead has totaled 23 touches over the last two games, though 17 of them came against the Bills in Week 16. Outside of that game, he hasn’t reached 10 touches since returning to the lineup in Week 13. White hasn’t topped 39 receiving yards in six of his last seven games, while scoring just two total touchdowns that entire time. This is clearly a muddy situation, but one that could net plenty of fantasy points against the Chargers, who have struggled to contain opposing run-games down the stretch. They did hold the Ravens running backs to just 36 scoreless yards on 14 carries last week, but prior to that, they’d allowed 11 total touchdowns to running backs over their last seven games. Over their last nine games, there’s been one team of running backs to eclipse 22 carries, so it’s unlikely there’s enough for Burkhead to get a bigger workload in this game. Since Burkhead returned, Michel has totaled 18 red zone carries, while White has six of them, and Burkhead has two. The only reason you’d play Burkhead is to hope Michel gets “Belichicked” and you have Burkhead at low ownership in a tournament. I’ll be the first to say that it’s possible, even if it’s not likely. The Chargers have allowed multiple rushing touchdowns three times over their last eight games, so Michel definitely has multi-touchdown potential for tournaments, but his lack of passing-game involvement keeps him out of cash lineups. White is the wildcard of the bunch, as he’s played in six playoff games over the last two years, and in those games, he’s totaled 298 total yards and eight total touchdowns. That’s just under 50 yards and 1.33 touchdowns per game. At just $4,900, he’s probably worth the risk if you’re looking to save some cash. With DraftKings being a full PPR site, White hasn’t fallen below 13.4 DraftKings points in 12-of-16 games this year. This is also his lowest cost since back in Week 3. On top of that, the Chargers did allow more than 50 receiving yards to opposing running backs in 10-of-16 games this year. White is playable in cash and has some appeal in tournaments as well.
Keenan Allen ($6,400): The gamescript of last week’s game prevented the Chargers from throwing the ball very much, which obviously affected Allen’s production. He did lead the team in targets and receptions, but 4/37/0 isn’t going to win anything. Fortunately, 8-of-16 teams threw at least 41 pass attempts against the Patriots this year. Allen also happens to have the best matchup on the field this week, as he’ll see Jason McCourty in coverage. Allen spends nearly 60 percent of the time in the slot, where McCourty has had some issues. While in the slot, he’s allowed 23-of-37 passing for 217 yards and three touchdowns, good enough for a 94.1 QB Rating. On perimeter targets, he’s allowed 30-of-53 passing for 517 yards and one touchdown. The slot is much different, especially down in the red zone, as the cornerback doesn’t have the sideline to work with, so to see McCourty move into the slot late in the season may not be the wisest decision, though Jonathan Jones was likely worse. Here’s a list of slot receivers who were able to post at least 11.5 PPR points against the Patriots this year: Jermaine Kearse, Dede Westbrook, Chester Rogers, Adam Thielen, Bruce Ellington, Golden Tate, Deontay Burnett, and Zay Jones. Not the most impressive list, eh? At just $6,400, Allen is someone I’m confident playing in cash, as he should come with a high-floor. As someone with a double-digit target ceiling, he’s obviously in-play for tournaments as well.
Mike Williams ($4,700): It finally happened… Mike out-snapped Tyrell. I’ve complained about it every week, so it’s good to see the tide start to turn, as it’s clear who the better receiver is. Unfortunately, that also likely means he’ll draw Stephon Gilmore in coverage this week, the Patriots most talented cornerback. Gilmore has allowed just a 46.7 percent catch-rate in his coverage this year while allowing a very-small 11.1 yards per reception. Williams is someone who can go-up-and-get-it, which is why he’s always in-play for tournaments. We’ve also seen a fellow young wide receiver in Corey Davis take Gilmore to school earlier this year, catching 6-of-8 balls for 98 yards and a touchdown in Gilmore’s coverage, so he’s not unbeatable. Williams has now seen 29 targets over the last five games, so he’s getting closer to being in the cash discussion, but knowing he has the toughest matchup on the field, he’s not a recommended play. It’s also possible the Patriots don’t have Gilmore shadow him, though if it were me deciding, it’s a rather easy call. He’s not someone you should forget about in tournaments.
Tyrell Williams ($3,900): After out-snapping Mike Williams for the entire season, Tyrell now seems to be playing slightly behind him after trailing him in snaps during their wild-card game. It wasn’t by much, as they run plenty of three-wide sets, but it does show that they’ve noticed his lackluster play. He’s finished with 23 yards or less in seven of his last nine games and hasn’t scored in each of the last eight games. He’s likely to see J.C. Jackson in coverage for much of the day, a rookie who wasn’t a part of the starting lineup until Week 13. He’s played extremely well, though, allowing just 22-of-42 passing for 262 yards with no touchdowns. He’s actually tallied three interceptions this year, too. If you’re playing Williams, you’re looking for a long touchdown and that’s about it, which means he’s a tournament-play only. Considering his matchup, he’s not a great one, either. Of the No. 2 perimeter wide receivers to do anything of significance against the Patriots, they all saw a minimum of seven targets, something Williams saw once this year, and that was the game Allen was hurt and had to leave.
Julian Edelman ($6,300): He’s priced-up this week and probably for good reason considering his string of performances as of late. He’s now totaled at least 69 yards in eight of his last nine games and has scored a touchdown in four of the last six games. He’s seen at least eight targets in 9-of-12 games, giving him what should be an ultra-high floor. The man standing in his way will be Desmond King, the Chargers slot cornerback who had a breakout season. He did allow a 75 percent catch-rate but that didn’t matter all that much as the catches he allowed went for an average of just 8.5 yards. He allowed a touchdown once every 40 targets in coverage, so it clearly wasn’t a matchup to attack. There were three slot-heavy receivers who posted more than 56 yards against the Chargers: Tajae Sharpe, Doug Baldwin, and Cooper Kupp. With Josh Gordon gone and Rob Gronkowski a shell of his former self, Edelman is going to get targeted for better or worse. Knowing the matchup and how good King has been, it’s tough to justify Edelman’s $6,300 price-tag in cash lineups, though it’s not the craziest thing you could do. He’s probably a better cash-game play than tournament one, as he’s not someone who regularly hits 100 yards or offers multi-touchdown upside.
Chris Hogan ($3,900): Going back to the start of the year, everyone would’ve been running to Hogan at $3,900. Oh, how the times have changed. He’s scored just one touchdown over the last 14 games, though it’s worth noting that he did see a season-high 11 targets in Week 17 against the Jets, hauling in six of them for 64 yards. With Gordon off the team, Hogan’s snaps jumped from roughly 40 percent in Weeks 12-14 to 82.7 percent in Week 16 and 94.1 percent in Week 17. So, he’s a full-time player for playoff Brady, at just $3,900. The downside is that he’ll see a lot of Casey Hayward, the Chargers Pro Bowl cornerback who allowed just a 54.7 percent catch-rate this season. It’s not all bad, though, as Hayward allowed a team-high 15.3 yards per catch and five touchdowns in his coverage. He was the player in coverage on both of Michael Crabtree‘s touchdowns last week, so he’s clearly not unbeatable. Hogan has seen three or less targets in eight of the last nine games, so you cannot justify playing him in cash, even if his cheap salary is appealing. If you want to take a chance on him, tournaments are your best shot.
Phillip Dorsett ($3,800) and Cordarrelle Patterson ($3,500): Patterson was inactive for the Week 17 game against the Jets with a knee issue, which put Dorsett back on the map as the Patriots No. 3 receiver. Patterson is expected back for this game, so it’s likely to be some sort of timeshare between the two for the No. 3/No. 4 wide receiver duties. They’d be matching up with last year’s undrafted free agent Michael Davis in coverage, who’s done a very respectable job since taking over as the starter in Week 9. In his time as a starter, he’s allowed 32-of-54 passing for 341 yards and one touchdown. That amounts to just 6.31 yards per target, hardly a matchup to exploit. Neither of them are must-plays in this game but knowing that Patterson also offers special teams touchdown upside, he’s the preferred option of the two. It’s probably unnecessary to play either of them, though.
Hunter Henry ($2,800) and Antonio Gates ($3,200): The Chargers have officially activated Henry this week, so he’s expected to play, though a lot depends on his practice participation and how his knee responds. It’s a shame that we don’t really know his role because the matchup against the Patriots is a great one. There were seven different tight ends who posted at least 11.1 PPR points against them this year. They didn’t allow much yardage (7.17 yards per target) to them, but they did allow a touchdown every 14.5 targets, which was the ninth-most often in the league. Here’s the list of tight ends the Patriots held below 9.3 PPR points this year: Kyle Rudolph, Charles Clay, Luke Willson, Mike Gesicki (twice), Chris Herndon, and Ryan Griffin. That’s it. If Henry plays, both him and Gates are going to kill each other’s upside. If Henry sits this game out, Gates suddenly becomes an interesting cheap option, as he and Rivers have a lot of chemistry in the red zone, where the Patriots have struggled with tight ends. Gates does have at least four targets in three of the last four games, and that’s while Rivers hasn’t thrown the ball very much. His 12.2 percent target share during those games isn’t massive, but it’s also not terrible if Rivers throws the ball 40-plus times, which should net five-plus targets. If Henry is out, Gates can be considered in cash if you’re really trying to save some money, though you are playing with fire. I’d rather move over to Gerald Everett who also happens to be cheaper. Gates would be a solid tournament option, though, and one who’ll be lesser owned.
Rob Gronkowski ($4,600): Did you know that even though Gronkowski didn’t play well this year and missed three full games with portions of others, he still finished as a top-12 tight end in PPR formats? The tight end position was ugly this year, that’s for sure, but to say Gronkowski was useless would be incorrect. He had two brutal matchups against the Bills and Jets at the end of the year (two top-six teams against tight ends), which has left a bad taste in everybody’s mouth. Unfortunately, the Chargers aren’t a much better matchup. They allowed the 13th-fewest PPR points to tight ends this year and that’s despite facing the fifth-most targets (121). They allowed just a 61.2 percent catch-rate (3rd-lowest), 6.15 yards per target (3rd-lowest), and 10.1 yards per reception (3rd-lowest) to tight ends, and that’s despite playing against Travis Kelce twice, George Kittle, Jared Cook, and David Njoku. The addition of safety Derwin James in this year’s draft was massive, as he’s been a difference-maker. There were five times this year where a tight end totaled more than 50 yards against the Chargers and in each of those games, the tight end saw at least eight targets. There’s been just three games this year where Gronkowski has seen eight targets, so it’s far from a sure thing, though it does help that Brady tends to throw more in the playoffs. Gronkowski has still shown the ability to be a difference-maker and he’s coming off two weeks rest, so he should be healthy. He’s one of the best plays in tournaments due to the perception around him combined with the tough matchup which should suppress his ownership a bit. He’s in the conversation for cash if you cannot pay-up for Ebron or Kelce, but I’d try to stick to tournaments.
Chargers ($2,400): Oddly enough, the Chargers defense has averaged 5.7 more DraftKings points on the road, as their defense has totaled 30 sacks in nine games, though that’s propped up a bit by their seven-sack performance against the Ravens last week. Unfortunately, Brady has been protected with a fortress in front of him, as he’s been sacked on just 3.53 percent of his dropbacks (3rd-lowest mark), and just 2.79 percent of his dropbacks at home (2nd-lowest mark). The Patriots running backs have lost two fumbles all season, which doesn’t bode well. Over the last three years in the playoffs, Brady has thrown just five interceptions in eight games, so it’s unlikely you’re looking at high probability for turnovers with him, either. The Chargers defense is priced down quite a bit, but for good reason. They shouldn’t be used in cash-games, though you don’t want to scratch off any defenses in tournaments on a four-game slate.
Patriots ($2,600): They’ve been a much better defense at home this year, allowing just 16.6 points per game compared to the 24.0 points per game on the road. Looking through their game log, they’ve scored at least 7.0 DraftKings points in 6-of-8 home games, with the exceptions being the Packers and Chiefs. It’s tough to say they’ll be able to get after Rivers, though, as he’s been sacked just once over the last two games, which came against the Broncos and Ravens, two teams with top-12 pass-rushes. The Patriots sack percentage of just 4.63 percent was the second-lowest mark in the league, so it’s not likely we’re looking at a lock for three sacks for the Patriots defense or anything. Rivers has thrown six interceptions over his last five games and has played just one playoff game (last week) over the last five years, so it’s possible that the stage affects him. The Patriots aren’t a team you need to play in cash lineups, but they do have tournament appeal.
Philadelphia Eagles at New Orleans Saints
Line: NO by 8.0
Nick Foles ($5,400): It was an up-and-down performance out of Foles against the Bears, as he made some great throws under pressure, while making some not-so-great throws that resulted in turnovers. I mentioned this last week, but it bears repeating: Foles was the No. 1 quarterback while throwing under pressure this season, completing 66 percent of his passes while under duress. That’s what helped him have a relatively successful game against the Bears last week. It’s relative because the Saints pass-rush is among the best in the league, as they boasted an 8.13 percent sack-rate, which ranked as the sixth-best in the league. Foles has been sacked just five times in four games since taking over for Carson Wentz, and that was while going against the Rams (Aaron Donald/Ndamukong Suh), Texans (J.J. Watt/Jadeveon Clowney), Redskins, and Bears (Khalil Mack). The Saints combination of Cameron Jordan, Marcus Davenport, and Alex Okafor has been solid, but it seems the Eagles offensive line is up for the task. The Saints defense has actually been worse at home this year, allowing 298.9 passing yards per game in the Superdome, while allowing just 238.9 yards per game on the road. They’ve also totaled just 19 sacks in the eight home games compared to 30 sacks in eight road games, which is quite odd. It was Carson Wentz under center the last time these two teams played, and it doesn’t look great that he went 19-of-33 for 156 yards, no touchdowns, and three interceptions, because Foles is obviously rolling out the same offense. Doug Pederson’s play-calling against the Bears was great, so you have to think he’ll adjust the second-time around. Knowing Foles will have to keep up with Brees and that the Saints have a dominant run-defense, we should see a high-attempt game out of him. He’s not a terrible play in cash because of that, though the last time the Eagles offense took the field in the Superdome does concern me enough to move to a different option. Given his price, Foles makes sense in tournaments, as he allows you to get some big names in your lineup. We’ve also seen the Saints allow 9-of-16 quarterbacks to score at least 19 DraftKings points. Just know that despite the 50.5-point total, the Eagles have the third-lowest implied team total on the slate.
Drew Brees ($6,700): The question of the week will probably be whether you pay for Mahomes, Luck, or Brees in cash lineups, so I’ll make sure to give my order at the end of these notes. Brees is the salary in the middle, though it’s odd they’re making you pay that much for him considering his recent performances. You’d have to go all the way back to Week 12 to find the last time Brees threw more than one touchdown, which is essentially two months ago. He was seemingly in a slump, so to see him on a three-week vacation (didn’t play Week 17) may have been a good thing, though that’s a very long time to not play in a game. The Eagles defense was one that Brees demolished in the Superdome back in Week 11 when he threw for 363 yards and four touchdowns on just 30 pass attempts. He’s one of eight quarterbacks who threw for 300-plus yards against the Eagles, though he’s one of just three quarterbacks who threw for more than two touchdowns. Despite all the injuries the Eagles have suffered in the secondary, they allowed just a 3.53 percent touchdown-rate, which was the fifth-lowest mark in the league. They saw the third-most pass attempts against them (39.0 per game) but allowed just the 22nd-most touchdown passes (1.38 per game). When they played the first game against each other, Brees was on some sort of a hot streak, as he threw 29 touchdowns with just two interceptions in the first 11 games but has thrown just three touchdowns with three interceptions over his last four games. Since winning the Super Bowl in 2009, Brees has played in seven playoff games. In those games, he’s thrown for an average of 365.9 yards and 2.3 touchdowns per game, which includes five road games. Needless to say, he’s shown up big-time in playoff appearances. There’s a level of risk playing Brees who’s played weak over the last four games, especially when it’s the second time these two teams have met this year. Because of that, I’d rather play Mahomes or Luck in cash lineups (Mahomes is preferred if you can afford him). As for tournaments, Brees may actually have the highest ceiling of the quarterbacks on this slate, as we’ve seen him destroy the Eagles defense on his home turf earlier this year, while the Mahomes’ upside has been a bit capped at home, and Luck could lose some of his upside to the run-game, as the Chiefs are terrible against the run.
Josh Adams ($3,200), Darren Sproles ($4,400), and Wendell Smallwood ($3,900): The timeshare was a bit clearer in the wild-card game, as Adams played as many snaps as Boston Scott did… one. Meanwhile, Smallwood chipped in with 28 snaps while Sproles led the way with 37 snaps. Over the Eagles last three games, Sproles has carried the ball 29 times while racking up 12 targets. That’s 13.7 opportunities per game and knowing the Saints don’t allow much on the ground, we should see more targets for him this week. On the year, the Saints allowed just 895 rushing yards to running backs, which was the best in the NFL by a full 100 yards. That amounts to just 55.9 rushing yards per game, which is kind of hard to expect much production when you have a three-way timeshare (no, I’m not willing to accept last week as the standard for snaps) at the position. There wasn’t a single running back who rushed for more than 76 yards against them this year, which included games against Ezekiel Elliott, Saquon Barkley, Todd Gurley, Joe Mixon, and Christian McCaffrey. While Adams had a long touchdown run against them back in Week 11, you cannot count on that happening again with the Saints history of stopping the run this year. It’s a different story when it comes to the passing game, as they allowed a healthy 1.69 PPR points per target to running backs, which ranked as the seventh-most in the league. There were seven different games where they allowed the opposing running backs to total 54 or more receiving yards, though never more than 81 yards. It’s difficult to trust Sproles in a tough matchup in a timeshare where his time is limited, but he’s familiar with this stadium, and has seen the most touches on the team as of late. At $4,400, he’s likely safe enough for cash if you’re looking to save some money at the running back position (though that’s not highly advisable with some great plays on the slate). He likely doesn’t come with enough upside in tournaments considering the timeshare and his unlikeliness to get goal-line carries. As for Smallwood and Adams, they’re nothing more than hail mary options you throw into a tournament lineup, hoping they score twice. Adams is the more talented option, but considering he’s coming off a game with just one snap, he’s a tough sell. Given Smallwood’s touches, he’s likely to have the higher ownership, so I suppose I’ll take the lesser-owned Adams, but he’s far from a sure thing.
Alvin Kamara ($7,300) and Mark Ingram ($5,200): We’ve seemingly found the sweet-spot for Kamara in the touch department, as he’s totaled in-between 11-14 carries in six of his last seven games, while he’s seen 5-11 targets in seven of his last nine games. Considering he catches roughly 80 percent of his targets, we’re looking at 15-22 touches per game, which is more than enough to do some damage, even though the Eagles defense has shown up in a big way the last three weeks, though there should be an asterisk somewhere. Over their last three games, they’ve allowed just 66 combined yards to opposing running backs, though it needs to be noted that they faced just 33 carries in that span. Their opponents were Alfred Blue (filling in for an injured Lamar Miller), Adrian Peterson (received four carries), and Jordan Howard (35 yards on 10 carries) in those games, not something you should read too much into. Prior to those three games, they allowed seven top-15 running back performances in their last six games, at least one per game. You would’ve had to go all the way back to Week 5 to find the last time they didn’t allow at least one top-18 running back performance. Kamara himself totaled 14 touches in the first game between the two, racking up 108 total yards and a touchdown. He was targeted just once in that game (caught it for a touchdown) because it was such a blowout. The Eagles allowed Brees to throw for 363 yards and four touchdowns on just 30 attempts in the first meeting, so it’s not as if the Eagles can key-in on the run-game, as Brees forces you to remain honest. The Eagles have played better as of late, but the Saints running backs are the exception to every rule, kind of like the Rams wide receivers. There’s been just two games all season Kamara has totaled less than 15.2 DraftKings points, so you’re not going to hear me say he’s not a cash-game option, because he is. The year-end numbers for the Eagles defense look better than they actually are because they faced the fewest carries (259) in the NFL, but the efficiency was there, as they allowed a healthy 4.57 yards per carry. Kamara is the preferred play here, even with his price, as the Eagles did allow the sixth-most PPR points through the air to running backs. Ingram has been capped at 13 carries ever since Week 11 and typically garners 2-3 targets in the passing game, so his role is a bit less appealing, though he’s the one who tagged the Eagles for 103 yards and two touchdowns back in Week 11. With the Saints being the second-highest implied total of the slate, Ingram gets consideration in tournaments, but should be left out of cash lineups with his limited role in the pass-game.
Alshon Jeffery ($5,800): He hasn’t seen double-digit targets with Foles under center, but Jeffery now has at least 50 yards in each of the last five games. He’s going to draw the toughest defender in coverage, as Marshon Lattimore shadows opposing No. 1 receviers, and did the last time these two teams played. Jeffery finished with four catches for 33 yards on five targets in that game and had just one target over 10 yards down the field, so it was going to be tough for him to produce. The Eagles also don’t move him around the field very much, as he runs just 10 percent of his routes from the slot, meaning he won’t evade Lattimore’s coverage very often. After allowing 115 yards and a touchdown to Mike Evans back in Week 1, Lattimore has been pretty dang good in coverage, allowing just 47-of-71 passing for 668 yards, one touchdown, and two interceptions. Jeffery is one of the best high-point receivers in the league and can catch a touchdown on any cornerback, but the odds aren’t in his favor in this matchup. He’s not an option in cash and you should limit exposure in tournaments.
Nelson Agholor ($4,300): While Jeffery gets Marshon Lattimore in coverage, that’ll leave Agholor matched-up with Eli Apple the majority of the game, the cornerback the Saints acquired from the Giants earlier this season. Since joining them, he’s allowed 46-of-79 passing for 642 yards and four touchdowns, which amounts to a respectable 86.6 rating in his coverage, though it’s important to remember that he’s almost never covering the No. 1 option. We knew Agholor had a tough matchup last week with Kyle Fuller and Prince Amukamara, so to see him post just 3/32/0 wasn’t a surprise. He has now seen at least six targets in each of his last three games, so he’s entering cash-game consideration, especially when you factor in Jeffery’s tough matchup. Agholor was shutout in the first game between these two teams, but that’s back when the Eagles were trying to force Tate into the offense, and Wentz may have had the worst game of his career. It’s seemed like he has more chemistry with Foles over the last two seasons, as he’s averaged 12.6 PPR points with him compared to 10.1 PPR points with Wentz, which likely comes from the extra 1.1 targets per game he gets with Foles. Agholor isn’t a must-play in cash, but he’s playable given his recent target share. If the Eagles were to fall behind (oddsmakers expect this), Agholor would have plenty of appeal in tournaments as well.
Golden Tate ($4,600): After totaling in-between 18-39 snaps for the first seven games with the Eagles, he’s played 40 and 41 snaps the last two weeks. It’s led to 14 targets, nine receptions, 79 yards, and a touchdown. It’s worth noting that he had the best matchup on the field against the Bears when he finished with 5/46/1 (including the game-winning touchdown), but that’s going to be the exact same case in this game, too. He’ll be matched-up with P.J. Williams in the slot, the cornerback who’s allowed a 74.4 percent catch-rate in his coverage with a touchdown every 11.1 targets. Of the 121 players who saw more than 50 targets in coverage, only four of them allowed a touchdown more often than Williams did. We saw Sterling Shepard, Adam Thielen, Cooper Kupp, and JuJu Smith-Schuster all post 19.9-plus PPR points in the slot against the Saints. His recent snap increase helps you feel a bit more confident in him, especially when the Eagles are expected to be playing from behind, which would allow Foles to rack-up the attempts. It’s also worth noting that Williams has allowed 45.4 percent of his yardage after the catch (33rd-most among 118 cornerbacks) which is where Tate shines, as his 6.4 yards after the catch ranked No. 8 of 125 wide receivers who played at least 25 percent of their team’s snaps. He’s playable in cash-games and should have enough upside for tournaments, too.
Michael Thomas ($7,900): I remember the Week 11 game between these two like it was yesterday because Thomas was considered the chalk at wide receiver where everyone wanted him in their lineup. He finished that game with just four catches, though they were for 92 yards and a touchdown. The highlight of that game was Tre’Quan Smith‘s 10-catch, 157-yard, one-touchdown performance, though. The Eagles lined-up two men across from Thomas at times like you’d do with a gunner in a punting situation (you know, the guy who’s running down the sideline to try and tackle the returner). That didn’t work out very well, as Brees threw for 363 yards and four touchdowns, so you’d think they’ll adjust their gameplan for him this week. We saw Allen Robinson tag this secondary for 10/143/1 last week, a receiver who hasn’t been featured nearly as much as Thomas has been this year. He’s moved around the formation a lot, so he won’t see one cornerback all game, but the one he’ll see most will be Rasul Douglas. He’s allowed near a 70 percent catch-rate in his coverage with 12.4 yards per reception but has held opponents to just three touchdowns on 77 targets. Here’s a fun stat for you: Thomas has caught 17-of-18 out routes for 175 yards and a touchdown, while Douglas has allowed 9-of-10 passing for 107 yards on those routes. Thomas has caught 20-of-22 slant routes for 202 yards and a touchdown, while Douglas has allowed 8-of-9 passing for 113 yards. Thomas is going to be involved one way or another and if you’re going to pay-up for a receiver this week, it should probably be him in cash lineups. It’s really difficult to get the stud running backs while paying up for him in cash, though, so tournaments are the most likely scenario to get your exposure to Thomas. There’re no warning signs in this matchup that you should worry about.
Ted Ginn ($4,400): In his first game back to the lineup in Week 16, Ginn saw eight targets while totaling five catches for 74 yards against the Steelers. He was inactive for the Week 17 game leading some to believe he may have aggravated an injury but that’s not the case, as Sean Payton held him out of the meaningless game, as he did with Brees/Kamara. The fact that he had eight of Brees’ 39 attempts in Week 16, in his first game back, tells us that he’s playable if you feel good about the matchup. He’s going to see a mixture of Rasul Douglas and Avonte Maddox for most of the game, though it’ll be Maddox more often than Douglas. It was Maddox who allowed 154 yards and a touchdown on 11 targets in coverage against the Bears last week, though Allen Robinson is a much more well-rounded receiver than Ginn. Still, it was Douglas that the Saints picked on last time, so it can really go either way here. At just $4,400, Ginn can be considered for cash-games, though he’s far from a lock. The truth is, when you’re paying up for some studs at running back, you’re going to be left to find some cheaper wide receivers. Of those who are less than $4,500 on this slate, Ginn is likely the one who comes with the most upside, while nearly all of them come with some degree of risk. That’s why I say he’s cash-game viable, though not a must-play. If you’re putting together a variety of tournament lineups, he should be in some of them.
Tre’Quan Smith ($4,200): There will be many who look to Smith as a solid cheap option considering what he did to the Eagles the last time they played, as he totaled 10/157/1 on 13 targets in that game. The issue with relying on that again? He was playing 75-85 percent of the snaps during that time, but saw his snaps dip down to 39 percent with Ginn back in the lineup Week 16. This makes him a part-time player who was targeted once every 12.9 snaps this year. If he plays sub-40 percent snaps with Ginn on the field, he may be looking at a 20-25-snap game, which is obviously not good for his target potential. He’s worth a shot in tournaments because of the offense he plays in, but considering what he did the last time against the Eagles, I imagine his ownership numbers will be higher than they should be.
Keith Kirkwood ($3,300): While many will be torn between Ginn and Smith, it was Kirkwood who actually played the most snaps among the three when they were all active in Week 16. Thomas played 61, Kirkwood 38, Ginn 27, Smith 26, and Tommylee Lewis 4. Kirkwood runs his 70 percent of his routes from the slot, so his role is much different than the others. He’s seen 2-5 targets in each of his seven games with Brees under center, so he’s got a role, though it’s a small one. The Eagles have Cre’Von LeBlanc covering the slot and he’s done a great job outside of one game against Robert Woods where he was targeted a remarkable 15 times. Over the course of his career, he’s allowed just three touchdowns on 123 targets in coverage, making Kirkwood a weak tournament option, though he won’t be heavily owned.
Zach Ertz ($5,700) and Dallas Goedert ($2,800): One of the issues I believe the Eagles had the last time they played the Saints is that it was difficult to utilize Ertz the way they wanted to. The Saints have done a phenomenal job against tight ends the last two seasons, allowing just 619 yards this year and 457 yards last year. That amounts to just 33.6 yards per game. There were two teams who allowed more yardage to tight ends in 2018 alone than the Saints have the last two years combined. There wasn’t a tight end who finished with more than 54 yards all season, that was until Week 17 when the Saints rested a bunch of players and allowed 61 yards to Ian Thomas. The only tight end who totaled more than 8.1 PPR points against them from Week 1-16 was Cameron Brate who caught two passes for 12 yards, but both of them were touchdowns. DraftKings has lowered Ertz’s price to make him appealing but this matchup isn’t one to play him in cash. The last time they played, Ertz finished with just two catches for 15 yards in what was his worst performance of the year. He’s not someone I’d cross off tournament lineups, as it’s rare to find a tight end who can see double-digit targets, especially on a four-game slate. As for Goedert, he’s clearly someone you should be avoiding, as it’s hard enough for one tight end to produce against the Saints. He also played just 44.8 percent of the snaps against the Bears last week.
Ben Watson ($2,900) and Dan Arnold ($2,500): The Saints tight end position used to be a goldmine for fantasy points, but it’s turned into a landmine that you try to avoid at all costs. Watson hasn’t been targeted more than three times since way back in Week 9 and hasn’t scored or topped 28 yards in that time. As for Arnold, he was a healthy scratch in Week 14 and Week 16, then ran 10 routes in a meaningless Week 17 game. It’s very possible he’s inactive for this game, as the Eagles allowed the seventh-fewest PPR points to tight ends this year, including a league-low two touchdowns. They allowed a touchdown once every 48.5 targets, which was the second-least often in the league. Knowing that Watson and Arnold rely on touchdowns for production, this is not a matchup to target in cash, and it’s not one I’d be targeting in tournaments, either.
Eagles ($2,000): Any time a team goes into New Orleans to play, their defense is essentially off limits. Brees doesn’t get sacked very often (17 times all year) and he doesn’t turn the ball over very much. On top of that, the Eagles defense waited until Week 17 to post a top-10 performance on defense. They were the only team in the league who failed to have at least two top-10 performances in Weeks 1-16. Their sack-rate of just 5.89 percent was the sixth-worst in the league, too, so this is not a defense you should even considering in cash. Knowing they’ll be the lowest owned option in tournaments, it’s tempting to save the funds, but even then, it’s not likely it’ll work out in your favor.
Saints ($3,300): It was somewhat shocking to see the Saints defense priced as the highest on the slate, as their defense finished with the 18th-most fantasy points this year, not exactly the cream of the crop. On top of that, the Eagles offensive line has allowed just a 6.0 percent sack-rate, which ranked top-10 in the NFL, and they’ve allowed just five sacks in four games since Foles took over for Carson Wentz, and that was while going against the Rams (Aaron Donald/Ndamukong Suh), Texans (J.J. Watt/Jadeveon Clowney), Redskins, and Bears (Khalil Mack). The Saints can bring pressure, but the Eagles offensive line isn’t going to open a turnstile, either. Foles is prone to turnovers, as he’s willing to throw the ball up when he’s in trouble, so there’s always the possibility of a pick-six, but it’s tough to justify paying their high price in cash lineups. They’re tournament-only for me, as it’ll force you to come up with some unique lineups, which is what’s needed to take down some large tournaments.