Wild Card Sunday Showdown DFS Primer (49ers at Cowboys)
For football fans around my age, the 49ers and Cowboys playoff game brings back memories of your younger years of being a football fan. Looking at this matchup, though, it features the smallest spread of Wild Card week, making it a candidate to be the most competitive. Additionally, each offense has depth, creating tons of roster construction choices. Regardless, I attempt to sift through the info, hoping to land on the best options.
Game: San Francisco 49ers at Dallas Cowboys
Spread: DAL -3.0 Points
Over/Under: 51.0 Points
49ers Analysis: The player with the highest salary on the 49ers isn't their trigger man, Jimmy Garoppolo. Instead, it's their do-it-all wide receiver who moonlights as a running back, Deebo Samuel. The electrifying receiver carried the ball at least five times in the last eight games of the regular season, catching three passes or more in the final four contests. He's a multi-dimensional, game-script-proof stud. Moreover, he offers exposure to the rushing attack and passing game, averaging 100.6 scrimmage yards per game, 4.8 receptions per game, scoring 14 touchdowns per Pro-Football-Reference. He's the top option on the 49ers, and I prioritize using him over Jimmy G.
Samuel isn't the only key cog in San Francisco's rushing attack. Rookie Elijah Mitchell is a workhorse in a tremendous run-blocking offense, facing a plus matchup. In his last five games, Mitchell rushed the ball 21 times or more, and he averaged 100 scrimmage yards per game, adding six touchdowns in 11 games. Additionally, according to Football Outsiders, the 49ers are 11th in Adjusted Line Yards. However, Pro Football Focus graded the 49ers as the best run-blocking team in 2021. Opposing them, the Cowboys are only 16th in rush defense Defense-adjusted Value Over Average (DVOA), per Football Outsiders. In addition, they coughed up more than 120 rushing yards in three of their last four games, coughing up over 100 rushing yards in all but one game after their Week 7 bye. As a result, Mitchell is my favorite player on this single-game slate.
George Kittle, Brandon Aiyuk, and Jauan Jennings -- Week 18 darling -- are the other eye-catching pass-catching options. According to Pro Football Focus, from Week 14 through the end of the regular season, Aiyuk led the team in routes (163), followed by Kittle's 147, and Jennings was fourth, with 113. During that stretch, Kitte was first on the team in targets (33) and receptions (27) and third in receiving yards (310). Meanwhile, Aiyuk was second in targets (30), receiving yards (329), touchdowns (two), and tying for second in receptions (21).
Jennings lagged behind Kittle and Aiyuk, but his three touchdowns led the team from Week 14 on, and his 16 receptions for 212 receiving yards are rock-solid. Additionally, he set season-highs for targets (seven), receptions (six), receiving yards (94), and touchdowns (two) in Week 18. All three merit usage, with Jennings profiling as the lowest-floor option at a bargain salary and Kittle, has the highest ceiling. With Kittle's ceiling in mind, it's egregious he has a lower salary than Aiyuk on FanDuel. I like the underdog 49ers' chances at springing the mild upset. So, I'm open to using more players from San Francisco's roster than the Cowboys or splitting the roster build down the middle on DraftKings.
Cowboys Analysis: The Cowboys will have an easier path to success through the air than on the ground. The 49ers are 16th in pass defense DVOA and second in rush defense DVOA. Thus, I'm fading the two-headed backfield of inefficient Ezekiel Elliott and Tony Pollard. Further, I'm not putting much stock in Zeke rushing for 87 yards last week against the Eagles in a game they treated like the final preseason contest, snapping a 10-game streak under 60 rushing yards.
Instead, my exposure to the Cowboys will be through their passing attack, headlined by Dak Prescott. Prescott has enjoyed success by spreading the wealth, making him the only consistent option in the passing game. He wasn't a model of consistency this year, but Prescott was seventh in passing yards per game (278.1) and tied for fourth in passing touchdowns (37).
Last week, slot wideout Cedrick Wilson was the apple of Prescott's eye, hauling in five of six targets for 119 yards and two touchdowns. Dalton Schultz joined Wilson in reaching pay dirt twice, fitting for a player that tied Amari Cooper for the team lead with eight touchdown receptions this season. According to our red zone stats, Cooper was first in red zone targets (18), followed by Schultz (12). As a result, both Cooper and Schultz are touchdown-chasing options.
Meanwhile, CeeDee Lamb scored six touchdowns. However, he also led the team in targets (120), receptions per game (4.9), and receiving yards per game (68.9). Lamb was second on the team with 57.7 receiving yards per game when he was back to Cooper. Revisiting Schultz, he was second on the team in receptions per game (4.6). Seriously, no matter how you slice it, all of Dallas's top pass-catching options were tightly clustered in every meaningful category.
There's a case for spending less for the likes of Wilson and Schultz since Lamb and Cooper don't command targets at an elite rate. However, Lamb's and Cooper's ceilings are higher. In addition, if the field takes the thrifty approach with the Cowboys' pass-catchers, Lamb and Cooper might be under rostered. While still using San Francisco's elite players, one way to climb up to Lamb or Cooper is dumpster diving with Blake Jarwin. Jarwin ran only nine routes in his return from the Injured Reserve last week, catching one of two targets for six yards. Nevertheless, in only eight games, Jarwin is a threat to score a touchdown, with four targets and two touchdowns in the red zone.
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