DFS Primer: Conference Championship Edition (2021 Fantasy Football)
I think many of us DFS players take it for granted that everyone knows or understands the lingo “cash games” or “GPPs.” With season-long fantasy football in the rear-view mirror, many are left watching football without rooting interest. Because of that, I wanted to highlight a few of the things you should know about DFS contests.
Cash games: These are formats where if you finish in the top half of contestants, you win money. These are found under 50/50s, Double Ups, and Head-to-Head contests. The goal in these formats to take on as little risk as possible. If there are 100 entries, you just need to finish inside the top-50. You will not win more money by finishing No. 1 than you do by finishing at No. 49.
GPPs (Guaranteed Prize Pools): This format can be anywhere from a couple hundred entries to a 100-plus thousand entries. These are also called tournaments where your goal should be to place as high as possible. These contests have a payout that’s heavily weighted to those who finish inside the top 20 percent, so you need to take on some risks. You also need to factor in ownership because if you only roster heavily-owned players, it’s virtually impossible that you separate yourself from the pack to win the tournament (or at least come close). The more entries there are in the tournament, the more risk you need to take.
Those are the general terms you should understand before playing DFS. If this is your first time playing, I suggest starting with cash games, as you just want to get your feet wet and build lineups. Remember, this is not the format to play someone because you “have a gut feeling” about a player (save that for tournaments). This is the format where you want to select players who come with the smallest amount of risk. Let’s get into my favorite cash-game players for this weekend’s slate.
Josh Allen (BUF) at KC – $6,900
How do you not play Allen with the way he’s been rolling as of late? Sure, the game against the Ravens wasn’t as high scoring as expected, but the winds were clearly affecting the deep ball. It was also the Ravens, a defense that’s been shutting down quarterbacks all season. The Chiefs are a solid defense but they’re not the Ravens. In fact, 10-of-16 quarterbacks who played against them this season finished with 19.36 or more fantasy points (just four quarterbacks hit that number against the Ravens). It helps to know the Chiefs have allowed 69.9 fantasy points on the ground to quarterbacks, which was the fifth-most in football, and something that should provide Allen with a sturdy floor. Some will worry about his 14-of-27 passing for 122 yards and two touchdowns in Week 6 against them, but don’t forget what Allen did against the Patriots in their first and second matchups this year. He went 11-of-18 for 154 yards and no touchdowns in their first meeting, but then crushed them with 27-of-36 passing for 320 yards and four touchdowns in their second one. His rushing floor might be enough to give him the nod over Rodgers, though weather should also play a factor in which one you choose.
Aaron Rodgers (GB) vs. TB – $6,500
While he may not have the rushing floor that Allen does, Rodgers has been the model of consistency this year, finishing with at least 18.2 fantasy points in 16-of-17 games. Unfortunately, the only game he failed to hit that number was against the Bucs in Week 6 where he completed just 16-of-35 passes for 160 yards, no touchdowns, and two interceptions. He threw three interceptions in the other 16 games combined. That game did take place in Tampa Bay, and it was also when the Bucs defense was hitting on all cylinders. Since Week 8, we’ve watched 8-of-10 quarterbacks finish with 16.2 or more fantasy points against the Bucs, including five of them who scored 23-plus fantasy points. The only exceptions were Chase Daniel and Drew Brees (last week when he clearly didn’t have it). The Bucs are extremely good against the run, so it’ll be tough for the Packers to get much going on the ground, which will lead to them relying on Rodgers the way they have all year, particularly in the red zone. If you want to play Rodgers over Josh Allen, it’s not crazy to do so, especially if you need the $400 savings.
Aaron Jones (GB) vs. TB – $6,500
It seems crazy that the top running back on the slate is just $6,500, but here we are. The matchup is a brutal one, but Jones is the only running back on the slate who has zero questions about his workload. The Bucs are not a team you want to play running backs against when they’re two-down backs, but fortunately, Jones is utilized in the passing game when he needs to be. That’s important because the Bucs allowed the fifth-most fantasy points through the air to running backs over the course of 2020. That’s what allowed nine different running backs to finish as the RB21 or better against them this year while scoring 13.1 or more PPR points. Jones is a better cash-game play than he is in tournaments, as his upside in this matchup is capped.
Darrel Williams (KC) vs. BUF – $4,800
There are some variables here with Williams, as we definitely need to pay attention to Clyde Edwards-Helaire‘s status. However, if Edwards-Helaire remains out, Williams makes for a great cash-game play at just $4,800. We should’ve known he’d have a big role when they let him sit Week 17 out with the rest of the starters. In their first postseason game last week, he played 52-of-66 snaps while getting 17 of the 19 touches available to Chiefs running backs. If you recall, Andy Reid did something similar with Damien Williams last year, as he limited his touches all season, only to unleash him in the playoffs. We watched the Ravens running backs combine for 135 total yards on just 23 touches, and though neither of them scored, that performance produced 16.5 PPR points, which is still great value for a running back with a $4,800 salary who scored 96 percent of the fantasy points in this backfield last week. There were 20 running backs who finished with 73-plus total yards and/or a touchdown against the Bills, which is why the Bills allowed the 12th-most fantasy points to running backs in 2020. If Edwards-Helaire is held out again, Williams is a must-play in cash lineups. If Edwards-Helaire does suit up, Williams moves more towards the tournament conversation, while Edwards-Helaire would be a viable cash-game option.
Devin Singletary (BUF) at KC – $4,500
There really should be no questions about Singletary’s workload with Zack Moss out for the season, but that wasn’t really the case last week when he received just 10 touches against the Ravens that netted just 37 total yards without a touchdown. To be fair, the Ravens are a better run defense than the Chiefs, who allowed the 13th-most fantasy points per opportunity to running backs this year. The only way the Bills win this game is by playing keep-away from Patrick Mahomes and the Chiefs offense, and what better way to do that than through Singletary, who should be as fresh as ever after totaling just 16 touches over the last two weeks. There’s risk, sure, but at just $4,500 for a running back who should get a minimum of 10 touches, his presence in your lineup allows you to pay up for guys like Travis Kelce and Davante Adams.
Davante Adams (GB) vs. TB – $8,000
Despite being matched up with the best cornerback in the game, Adams still managed to crush last week while racking up nine catches for 66 yards and a touchdown. We found out after last week’s game that Michael Thomas was trying to play through injuries that required surgery, so we can’t automatically assume the Bucs are a shutdown defense again. Since Week 10, their secondary has allowed six wide receivers to post 24-plus PPR points against them, while five others were able to post 16-plus PPR points. The Bucs will likely have Carlton Davis shadow Adams, which is a tough task, and one that Davis struggled with a bit down the stretch. While Davis did limit Thomas’ numbers last week, he’s still allowed 8-of-15 passing for 164 yards and a touchdown in his coverage during their two playoff games. In fact, over his last eight games played, he’s allowed 39-of-57 passing for 676 yards and four touchdowns, which is good for a 131.9 QB Rating. If you have the funds to pay up for any wide receiver, Adams should be the one.
Stefon Diggs (BUF) at KC – $7,000
If you can’t afford to pay up for Davante Adams, Diggs isn’t a bad substitute. Since the start of Week 8, Diggs has totaled at least six catches and 92 yards in nine of his last 11 games, which is remarkable for cash games. Diggs answered the call last week in a brutal matchup against the Ravens, racking up eight catches for 106 yards and a touchdown in a game where Josh Allen wasn’t having his greatest day. That’s something to latch onto because the matchup against the Chiefs is another tough one. They’ve allowed just three wide receivers all year to hit six catches and 92 yards against them, and while Diggs wasn’t one of them, he was able to catch six passes for 46 yards and a touchdown in their Week 6 meeting. The Chiefs could also be without their top cornerback Bashaud Breeland, who suffered a concussion last week. There were just three wide receivers all season who topped 22.8 PPR points against the Chiefs, so Diggs might not have the highest ceiling in tournaments, but he makes plenty of sense in cash.
Mike Evans (TB) at GB – $5,800
I know what you’re thinking… “What about Jaire Alexander? Won’t he cover Evans?” The Packers have kept Alexander at LCB in each of their last nine games, so there’s no reason for that to change. Meanwhile, Evans played 82 percent of his snaps at LWR or in the slot last week, which means he’ll avoid Alexander most of the game. Instead, he’ll match up with Kevin King, the Packers worst starting cornerback. In his coverage, he’s allowed 40-of-57 passing for 529 yards and one touchdown this year. Despite that one touchdown, those numbers are good for a 105.1 QB Rating in his coverage. Evans is also second in the NFL in red zone targets, behind only Davante Adams, so King will be tested. Removing the one game he had to leave early with injury, Evans has seen 66 targets over his last eight games, making him Tom Brady‘s No. 1 target. He’s discounted to the point where it’s hard not to play him.
Allen Lazard (GB) vs. TB – $4,200
If you’re looking to save money at the wide receiver position, Lazard would be the option I’d lean towards. Aaron Rodgers has always been one to target weak members of the opposition, and that player is Sean Murphy-Bunting, the cornerback who’ll be on Lazard for most of the day. On the season, Murphy-Bunting has allowed 73-of-95 passing (76.8 percent catch-rate) for 851 yards (8.96 yards per target) and seven touchdowns (one every 13.6 targets). He played one of the best games of his career last week, though the sample size over the course of his career suggests he’s one to attack. Meanwhile, Lazard is coming off an eight-target game where he caught four balls for 96 yards and a touchdown against a tough Rams secondary. Knowing the Bucs are not a defense you can run the ball on, you should expect plenty of targets to go around.
Travis Kelce (KC) vs. BUF – $8,000
I said last week that Kelce was a must-play because he’s almost always worth it on a full 13-game slate, let alone a slate that had just four games. Fast forward and now we have him on a two-game slate. If you don’t play Kelce in cash, you’re setting yourself up for disaster. You’d have to go all the way back to Week 7 to find the last time he scored fewer than 16.2 PPR points, and just once during that nine-game stretch did he fall below 22.8 DraftKings points. On top of that, the Bills allowed the fifth-most fantasy points to tight ends this season, which included 92 receptions allowed (ranked as the second-most to only the Jets). When these two teams met back in Week 6, Kelce caught 5-of-7 targets for 65 yards and two touchdowns. It’s important to note that Patrick Mahomes only threw the ball 26 times in that contest, so it could’ve been even bigger. He gives you predictability at an otherwise unpredictable position.
Cheap alternate option if you must: Dawson Knox (BUF) at KC – $2,800
Kansas City Chiefs vs. BUF – $3,100
There isn’t a clear-cut option at DST this week, so let’s go back to the basics of looking for a home defense that’s projected to win. The Chiefs are cheaper than the Packers and present a lot more pressure on opposing quarterbacks. Knowing the Bills struggle to run the football effectively, we should expect plenty of dropbacks, which means plenty of opportunities at sacks and/or turnovers, especially if the game is played in less-than-ideal conditions. Right now, the expected temperature is 45 degrees with a 45 percent chance of rain. If you don’t have enough for the Chiefs, it’s really not that big of a concern because you can just go with the Bills defense.