DFS Primer: Divisional Round 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.
Patrick Mahomes (KC) vs. CLE – $8,000
If you’re able to pay up, Mahomes is the quarterback you should be looking at here. Not only is he the best quarterback in the game, but the matchup against the Browns is one that gives him an additional bump. They’re what’s known as a funnel defense, allowing the fifth-fewest points to the running back position, but the eighth-most to the quarterback position. It’s also important to keep in mind that they played three games in high winds and rain, which dragged down the passing numbers a bit more. Still, there have been seven quarterbacks who’ve totaled 27.5 or more DraftKings points against the Browns this season. Mahomes is as safe as they come with his 32.3-point team-implied total.
Drew Brees (NO) vs. TB – $5,600
If you’re looking to save some money and can’t afford to play Mahomes, Brees is worth considering. This game will be played inside a dome, and we know Brees has been a much better quarterback at home over the course of his career. This game also has the second-highest total on the slate at 52.0 points, so we must find where the points will come from. The Bucs defense was the No. 1 defense against the run in 2020 and have allowed just 8.8 fantasy points per game on the ground to running backs. Because of that, quarterbacks have had to carry the load. Since Week 9, there’s been just one quarterback who’s failed to score 17.1-plus fantasy points against the Bucs, and that was Chase Daniel (a backup). The last time these two teams met, Brees completed 26-of-32 passes for 222 yards and four touchdowns. He should come with a solid floor in what’s expected to be a high-scoring game.
If you need to save an additional $300: Baker Mayfield (CLE) at KC – $5,300
Aaron Jones (GB) vs. LAR – $6,800
It’s kind of crazy to see Jones priced down under $7,000, as it’s something that hasn’t happened since back in Week 9 when he was returning off injury against the 49ers. Everyone knows the Rams are an elite pass defense, but they’ve also been a top-tier run defense, allowing the fourth-fewest fantasy points per game to running backs. However, there is a loophole. The Rams defense has allowed just 108 points on their home turf this year, but have struggled a bit more on the road, allowing 185 points. They’ve also had a relatively light schedule with competition this year, as the adjusted opponent rank suggests they’re the eighth-toughest matchup for running backs (not the fourth). This game will be taking place on Saturday afternoon in Green Bay where the temperature is supposed to be 25-30 degrees, so expect Jones to receive 18-plus touches. If Davante Adams will be at all limited in his production against Jalen Ramsey, we should expect Jones to see an increased role in the red zone. He’s the discounted Alvin Kamara in a slightly better matchup.
Nick Chubb (CLE) at KC – $6,600
Since returning from his injury, Chubb hasn’t finished with fewer than 14.4 DraftKings points. This is extremely impressive considering he doesn’t have much of a role in the passing game. He’s now scored at least one touchdown in eight of the last nine games. Now onto a matchup with the Chiefs, who’ve historically struggled with running backs who garner a lot of touches. There have been eight running backs who’ve totaled more than 13 carries against the Chiefs, and each of them finished with at least 13.0 DraftKings points, and that’s despite allowing just seven rushing touchdowns on the year. The 4.51 yards per carry they’ve allowed is well above the league average, and Chubb has averaged a league-high 1.75 yards per carry over what he was expected to. If the Browns want a shot in this game, they’ll do it with their run-game. On such a small slate, you should be aiming at 2.5x of salary, which would amount to 16.5 PPR points for Chubb, a number that should be hit.
Cam Akers (LAR) at GB – $5,700
He was underpriced last week, though we did have some questions about his ankle injury. The Rams showed no hesitance with him and he performed in a semi-tough matchup with the Seahawks racking up 176 total yards and a touchdown. He now has 55 total touches over the last two games, which eliminates any concerns we have over starting him in our cash game lineups. The Packers run defense is also nothing to worry about, as they allowed the third-most fantasy points per opportunity to running backs this year, behind only the Lions and Texans. The biggest issue for running backs against the Packers is lack of plays/volume, but knowing Akers has totaled 55 of the 69 touches (80 percent) over the last two games with Darrell Henderson out. Despite the Packers holding their opponents to a league-low 60.9 plays per game, there were just three games this year where running backs failed to total at least 22 touches against them. Akers should be a lock for 15-plus touches, so given his low price tag of just $5,700, you almost have to play him in cash.
Kareem Hunt (CLE) at KC – $4,800
If you need to save some money at the running back position, Hunt makes sense given his minuscule $4,800 price tag. If you read The Primer throughout the year, you know that Hunt wasn’t someone I wanted to play as anything more than a low-end RB2/high-end RB3, but on just a four-game slate, his price is far too low, especially when you consider the projected gamescript. In the 12 games that both Hunt and Chubb were on the field, Hunt ran 174 routes compared to Chubb’s 158 routes. When you see that the Browns are 10.5-point underdogs, you must figure Hunt will have a much larger role in the passing game this week. In the five losses the Browns have had this year, Hunt averages 4.8 targets, which is a much better number than the 2.5 targets he’s seen in their wins. There have been 16 running backs who’ve totaled at least 25 yards through the air against the Chiefs, and that’s led to a league-high 846 receiving yards to running backs on the season (no other team allowed more than 770 yards). The only team who allowed more PPR points through the air to running backs this year was the Lions, a team we always attacked. And we can’t pretend Hunt won’t have some production on the ground, as he’s scored five rushing touchdowns over their last eight games. He’s the cheapest option you should consider in cash games.
Tyreek Hill (KC) vs. CLE – $8,000
It’s tough fading Davante Adams, but knowing Hill is $600 cheaper, it makes that pill much easier to swallow. Hill has seen at least 10 targets in six of his last nine games and is now coming off two full weeks of rest. The Browns secondary has been one to attack with wide receivers, as there’ve been 16 different receivers who’ve totaled 15-plus PPR points against them this year, and that’s not even including the three Steelers receivers who scored 20-plus PPR points last week. Sure, they were without Denzel Ward for that game, but this has been a secondary to attack all year. Even when you factor in their competition, wide receivers scored 10.5 percent more PPR points against the Browns than they did in their non-Browns matchups, making it the sixth-best schedule-adjusted matchup in the NFL. With little run game and a 32.3-point team-implied total, Hill is the receiver worth paying up for if you decide to go that route.
Michael Thomas (NO) vs. TB – $6,700
All we wanted to see was a healthy Thomas out on the field and that’s what we got in the wild card round. He played 52 snaps against the Bears and looked extremely good on them, though the lack of competition limited his overall upside in that game. Still, walking away with five catches for 73 yards and a touchdown at his discounted price felt good. They left his price in the mid-tier this week, making him a great play in cash lineups. There have been 11 different wide receivers who finished with eight or more receptions against the Bucs this year, and that happens because they’re so good against the run. He’s going to see Carlton Davis in coverage, a cornerback who looked elite to start the year, allowing just 26-of-51 passing for 271 yards and two touchdowns in the first eight games, but the wheels have fallen off over the second half of the year. Over the last seven games he’s played, he’s allowed 37-of-52 passing for 604 yards and three touchdowns. Thomas should be the primary focal point of the Saints offense this week.
Jarvis Landry (CLE) at KC – $5,600
It’s easy to forget about the loss of Odell Beckham in the Browns offense because it’s been so long. However, there have now been six games where Landry has played without Beckham where there weren’t 40-plus MPH winds and/or heavy rain. Here are the results of those games:
The downside to this matchup is that the Chiefs defense has been one of the best in the NFL against wide receivers over the last two years. In fact, the 128.9 yards per game they’ve allowed to them since the start of the 2019 season is the lowest in the NFL. However, there have been 15 wide receivers who’ve seen more than six targets against them, and all but one (Jeff Smith) totaled at least 11.4 PPR points. It’s fair to say that Landry will be locked into at least eight targets in a game they’re projected to lose by double-digit points. He’s a safe wide receiver this week, particularly at his price.
Antonio Brown (TB) at NO – $5,400
If you’ve been watching the Bucs lately, you’d know that Brown is starting to look like the receiver we saw in Pittsburgh for so many years. That receiver would not have sniffed $5,400 on DraftKings. Brown has now scored 13.5-plus PPR points in each of his last four games, finding the end zone five times during that stretch. The Saints are not a bad defense by any means but given the fact that this game has a 52-point total and that the Bucs are going to struggle to run the ball without a healthy Ronald Jones, we’re going to see plenty of pass attempts out of Tom Brady. With Mike Evans at less than 100 percent, we should expect a few more targets to go Brown’s way. On top of that, Marshon Lattimore has had Evans’ number over the years, which makes it even more likely Brady finds production elsewhere. He’s not as safe as someone like Jarvis Landry, but if you’re looking for another value wide receiver, Brown should hit value at his cost.
Travis Kelce (KC) vs. CLE – $7,800
If you can afford Kelce, you play him, no questions asked. In fact, you can play him in the flex if you’d like, as he should cost as much as the top-tier wide receivers. You’d have to go all the way back to Week 7 to find the last time he finished with fewer than 16.2 DraftKings points, and just once during that eight-week stretch did he fall below 22.8 DraftKings points. He’s a cheat code at the position with zero predictability. On top of that, the Browns are the second-easiest matchup for tight ends based on their adjusted-schedule rank. Tight ends playing the Browns have averaged 21.1 percent more PPR points against the Browns than they have versus their season-long average, which, in Kelce’s case, was 22.1 DraftKings points per week.
Mark Andrews (BAL) at BUF – $5,000
If you can’t afford Kelce, Andrews is clearly the next best option, though there is a scenario where you play both of them. Andrews has seen at least five targets in each of the last nine games, which is a necessary when spending up for a tight end. On the year, there have been seven tight ends who finished with top-12 numbers against the Bills, including five who finished with 17.8 or more PPR points. When factoring in their competition, tight ends averaged 2.5 more PPR points per game against the Bills than they did in their non-Bills games, which makes them the fifth-best schedule-adjusted matchup for the position. It would be wise to pay up for Kelce, but Andrews would be the next-best option.
Austin Hooper (CLE) at KC – $3,800
He’s the cheapest cash-game option at tight end you should consider this week, though you really should get up to Kelce if you can. Hooper has seen a remarkable 37 targets over the last four games, turning them into 23 receptions for 195 yards and three touchdowns. It’s always been risky with Hooper, as he shares the tight end snaps with both David Njoku and Harrison Bryant, but in the end, he’s the one who’s been getting targeted while the Browns have been their hottest. The matchup with the Chiefs is a good one, too. They’ve allowed 1.96 PPR points per target to tight ends this year, which ranks as the seventh-highest number in football. It’s also led to them allowing the sixth-most fantasy points per game to the position. Meanwhile, the Chiefs have extremely limiting to wide receiver production, so when we see a negative gamescript on tap, we need to find where that production goes. With all the targets that have gone Hooper’s way as of late, he’s one of the most logical solutions if you’re looking to save salary at tight end.
Los Angeles Rams at GB – $2,600
Let me be clear about this one: I don’t love this play. However, the Rams are the second-cheapest option on the slate and do create tons of pressure. The Packers lost starting Pro Bowl tackle David Bakhtiari prior to their Week 17 game, and while Aaron Rodgers was pressured just 23.3 percent of the time in Weeks 1-16, he faced pressure 30.0 percent of the time in Week 17 against a Bears defense that’s struggled to generate consistent pressure. Meanwhile, the Rams led the league averaging 3.4 sacks per game in 2020. This game will also be played in the worst conditions, as it’s expected to be around 25-30 degrees in Lambeau Field on Saturday afternoon. This is more about saving salary and hoping the Rams can find a way to get to the quarterback than it is about them being a tremendous play. If you have salary to waste, the Chiefs D/ST would probably be my first choice, but they’re too pricey.