Wild Card Monday Showdown DFS Primer (Cardinals at Rams)
This is the second rubber match of Wild Card weekend. The Rams and Cardinals split the season series, with the latter winning the first matchup and the former winning the rematch. Now, all the marbles are on the line in the postseason. Unfortunately, both teams have had significant injuries during the season, so all of the regular-season statistics in their matchup come with massive caveats. Regardless, they are a data point I use in analyzing my favorite options from both teams below.
Game: Arizona Cardinals at Los Angeles Rams
Spread: LAR -4.0 Points
Over/Under: 49.5 Points
Inflection points are the norm for many teams in the NFL. For the Cardinals, losing DeAndre Hopkins to injury after the Week 14 contest against the Rams is an obvious one for Arizona. In four games since, Kyler Murray has passing yardage totals of 257, 245, 263, and 240, tosing more than one touchdown only one time, chucking a pair in Week 17. However, he also has rushing yardage totals of three, 74, 44, and 35. Murray's rushing contributions help alleviate the lack of touchdowns or high-end passing yard performances. Additionally, he ran for 61 yards in Week 14 against the Rams. So, his ceiling is through the roof if he continues to run and either finds pay dirt multiple times or ratchets up his passing yardage.
The Rams' secondary is in dire straits at safety, resulting in bringing back Eric Weddle this week. Weddle has been retired since the conclusion of the 2019 season. Thus, I'm optimistic about Murray's chances of flirting with or reaching his ceiling this week. He's a slam-dunk pick on DraftKings, where there's value abound to fit him around my favorite choice on this single-game slate and his possible stacking partner. He's also an excellent pick on FanDuel.
Zach Ertz is a screaming value on both sites. According to Pro Football Focus, in the last four games of the year, without Nuk, Ertz was second in receiving yards (253) and routes (172), and first in targets (42) and receptions (28). In addition, he's averaging over 10 targets a game. Thus, his volume of work is dreamy.
Christian Kirk has been directly behind him in targets (32) and receptions (24) but led the way in routes (175) and receiving yards (271). So, there's a strong case for using him on this slate. However, Kirk was held to five yards on one reception in the first game against the Rams and posted three receptions on six targets for 86 scoreless yards in the rematch. So, he's not a slam-dunk pick.
Perhaps surprisingly, A.J. Green balled out to an extent against the Rams. In the first game, he tallied a 5-67-1 line on six targets and a 7-102-0 line on 10 targets in the rematch. Obviously, that's only a two-game sample, so I caution against putting too much stock in it. Regardless, it's a stellar two-game showing, and he has been fourth in receptions (12) and third in routes (155), targets (25), and receiving yards 194 without Hopkins.
Antoine Wesley is a player I haven't touted often. Regardless, I owe him some acknowledgment as a steal on both daily fantasy providers. I strongly prefer using him to Rondale Moore because Wesley is primarily a perimeter receiver, and Moore has to jostle for playing time in the slot with Kirk and Ertz. Wesley's 95 yards in the previous four games are ho-hum, but his 135 routes, 19 targets, and three touchdowns are all eye-catching, namely at his depressed salary on both sites, but especially at his comically-low salary on DraftKings.
The biggest no-brainer selection on either provider is Chase Edmonds on DraftKings. Though, he's a stellar selection on FanDuel, too, assuming James Conner is out. Conner hasn't practiced yet this week, so I'm treating him as on the doubtful side of the questionable injury designation. According to our snap count leaders, Edmonds has had snap shares of 92% and 81% in two games without Conner this year. Edmonds totaled 123 scrimmage yards, eight receptions, one touchdown, 82 scrimmage yards, and five receptions in those two games. He's a workhorse when Conner is out, piling up looks and receptions in the passing attack. Even if Conner is active, I still like Edmonds -- albeit to a lesser extent.
The Cardinals weren't the only team in this game with an inflection point. The Rams had a couple of them. First, they lost Robert Woods to a season-ending injury, resulting in adding Odell Beckham Jr. to the fold and pushing Van Jefferson Jr. up the pecking order -- at least temporarily. Additionally, Darrell Henderson Jr. was injured, clearing the way for Sony Michel commanding bell-cow usage. The second inflection point took hold in Week 13 -- save for a fill-in start in Week 3 -- when Michel touched the ball 27 times (24 rush attempts and three receptions) for 121 rushing yards, one touchdown, and eight receiving yards.
I was curious to see what the Rams' running and passing tendencies were starting in Week 13, suspecting they might have shifted to a more run-heavy approach, given Michel's gaudy touch totals. However, much to my chagrin, according to Sharp Football Stats, since Week 13, when the scoring margin was between trailing by six points and leading by six points, the Rams passed at the fourth-highest rate (62% versus a league average of 56%).
Thus, Michel's hearty touch totals were entirely the product of owning the backfield to himself. So, Cam Akers' return last week is alarming for Michel. As a result, I'm not crazy about Michel. Instead, I think Akers is moderately intriguing, namely if you believe another week of practices following game action will result in an uptick in playing time. Akers' return from an Achilles injury is unprecedented. So, I'm inclined to believe he's fully healthy. However, it's possible he's not back to pre-injury form. Still, it's also possible more conditioning and having shaken the rust off last week are reasons enough for him to push Michel for feature-back duty. Further, Akers, at his best, is a more explosive athlete capable of exploiting Arizona's struggles containing explosive running plays. According to Sharp Football Stats, the Cardinals allowed the highest average explosive run rate (15%) in 2021.
Regardless, the passing attack, namely Cooper Kupp and Matthew Stafford -- in that order -- are where the Rams' bread is buttered. Kupp led the NFL in every meaningful receiving category. He was dominant, averaging 8.5 receptions and 114.5 receiving yards per game and leading the NFL with 16 receiving touchdowns. Moreover, in two games against the Cardinals, Kupp was targeted 28 times, hauling in 18 receptions or 187 yards and a touchdown. Kupp is an unstoppable force.
Stafford has been erratic, tying for the league lead in interceptions (17). Still, he also was fourth in passing yards per game (287.4), third in Adjusted Net Yards Per Pass Attempt (7.45 ANY/A), and second in touchdown passes (41), per Pro-Football-Reference. In fantasy, you'll gladly take the bad for the good. It's also hard to nitpick Stafford's fantasy efforts against the Cards, passing for 280 yards, two touchdowns, and one interception in Week 4, and spinning it for 287 yards, three touchdowns, and zero interceptions in Week 14.
Finally, OBJ has ascended to the No. 2 receiver gig for the Rams. Unfortunately, he's finished under 40 receiving yards in the previous four weeks, salvaging value in Week 16 and Week 17 with a touchdown. However, I'm more fixated on his 6-77-1 line on seven targets in Week 14 against the Cardinals. Do I think OBJ is a must-play player? No. Still, he's the only pass-catcher behind Kupp I'm even moderately interested in on this single-game slate.
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