The playoffs are here, but daily fantasy is still in full swing. For the Wild Card and Divisional round of the NFL postseason, DFS sites will stay open for those of us with the itch left to scratch.
Playing DFS in the playoffs is different than the endeavor we enjoyed in the regular season. NFL fantasy is already variance heavy, and it gets ramped up even more in the playoffs. With only eight games on, it's harder to insulate yourself from that, and we all know that weird happenings just tend to take place in the playoffs anyway. This is the time of the year when it matters most for players, and the outcomes become harder to project across the way.
Additionally, with an four-game slate and a smaller pool of players to pick from, we can't count on our opponents to make sub-optimal decisions, a key in being a good DFS player. For that reason, if you're playing in the postseason, just enter tournaments and do this for fun. It's a nice way to get your fantasy fix in, and have a little something extra to root for while watching the games. Just don't think this is a situation where you can really gain a big edge over the field. Because of that leack of an edge, I won't split playerss into the different categories as in the regular season like "cheatcodes" and "100 percent exposure". We'll just look at the positions in value based tiers.
With all that out of the way, there are certainly some strong plays to look at in four games that all don't feel completely clear. Let's have some fun.
As the hottest quarterback coming into the Wild Card round, Russell Wilson will be a popular selection. He comes in after throwing 24 touchdowns to just one interception since Week 11, and one of the most dominant stretches by any quarterback in NFL history. On paper, Minnesota is not a frightening matchup for quarterbacks, checking in as a near league average pass defense for 2015. The Vikings rank 15th in both passer rating against and touchdown rate allowed, and 16th in yards per attempt.
However, there are more than a few reasons to consider fading Wilson. For starters, the weather in Minnesota over the weekend is forecasted to be trecherous:
With such a rough forecast, both teams might slow-play this matchup, and lean on their running backs. That is the way Minnesota prefers to play, anyhow. While Minnesota's secondary, particularly the cornerbacks, were inconsistent, the front-seven played good football all year long. The Vikings rank eighth in the NFL in terms of sack rate, and have a number of Pro Bowl snubs up front. Anthony Barr and Everson Griffen could cause havoc in the edge rush, but Linval Joseph, who was quietly one of the most dominant defensive tackles this season, could really wreck things against a weak interior offensive line.
If you're going high for a quarterback, Ben Roethlisberger could be the way to go. Plenty of season-long and daily fantasy players were let down by Roethlisberger in Week 16, when he scored under seven points against a poor Ravens secondary. He bounced back for a nice fantasy day in Week 17, but still threw two painful interceptions against Cleveland. If that drives his ownership percentage down at all, it's a prime spot to pounce on the Steelers star quarterback.
The Steelers vs. Bengals game has a sneaky chance to turn into a shootout. If that happens, Roethlisberger could rack up points against a defense whose late-season fantasy points against ranking is skewed from closing out the season against Blaine Gabbert, Brock Osweiler and Ryan Mallett. Remember, the Mike Tomlin coached Steelers and Ben Roethlisberger only historically play down to their competition against inferior opponents. In a playoff game they were grateful to get into into, this looks like a spot for Pittsburgh to get up for.
Much like Russell Wilson, Kirk Cousins will be a popular play. His 69.8 completion percentage, and standing as the fourth ranked active quarterback across the DFS industry will naturally draw eyes to the Washington starter. No one should be surprised if he ends up as the highest owned quarterback on the Wild Card slate.
Cousins' production down the stretch is undeniable, as he managed a passer rating over 101 in each of his last six games. He went for over 300 yards and four touchdowns in Week 15 and 16 against Buffalo and Philadelphia, then closed the season out with three scoring passes against Dallas on just 15 passes in a little over a quarter's worth of action. Of course, the theme with most of those teams, and his perfect passer rating game against New Orleans in Week 10, is a poor pass rush. Among Cousins' opponents from Week 10 on, only the Panthers and bears rank outside the bottom-12 in sack rate.
Here's how he fared against those two compared to the other teams:
Do with the data what you want, but I think this information is more valuable than arbitrary home/road splits. The Packers come to Washington carrying the fifth-highest sack rate in the NFL. Clay Matthews and Mike Daniels make up just the beginning of what is a solid pass rushing unit, and they are a big reason why they allowed just a 58.2 completion percentage on the year. Perhaps this is not enough to fade Kirk Cousins entirely, but it's a reason for pause.
For what feels like the fifth week in a row, Aaron Rodgers makes for an interesting contrarian play. Yes, the Packers offense is a nightmare. Between an injured offensive line, a woebegone receiving corps, and Rodgers' own subpar play, there's not much to like here. Yet, just as it's been for months now, Rodgers' ownership percentageis something to take advantage of, even in a small field tournament situation.
Aaron Rodgers is still one of the best quarterbacks of this era, and is in a prime spot against Washington. Over the last four weeks, their defense allowed the second most fantasy points to quarterbacks. Their opponents over that stretch include Jay Cutler, Tyrod Taylor, Sam Bradford and Kellen Moore. Most of those yards came when Washington was sizably ahead, but that could certainly play out again this week, creating a situation where the Packers accumulate similar yardage. If you don't throw at least a few Rodgers lineups out there, you're doing it wrong.
Picking on the low range of the Wild Card round quarterbacks inherently invites a low-ceiling outcome. All three of Alex Smith, Brian Hoyer and Teddy Bridgewater all have floors below 13 points and face three of the best defenses in the NFL. If you're picking from this group, the best way to go is Hoyer stacked with DeAndre Hopkins. Even in a tough spot, if Hoyer posts a strong stat line at home, it'll be a causation of a Hopkins berserk outing. The star receiver went for 98 yards and two scores against the team in Week 2, but the Chiefs improved on defense since then.
The only true player near the punt play range at quarterback is AJ McCarron. The former Alabama University product played better than expected in relief of Andy Dalton, but his highest DFS score was the 18 points he amassed when Dalton went out against Pittsburgh. He averaged just 12.86 points in the three games following. He offers the same low floor that both of the three listed in the low-end carry.
However, if the Bengals vs. Steelers game does turn into a shootout, a unique lineup construction would feature a McCarron and A.J. Green or Tyler Eifert stack with a Pittsburgh receiver on the other end. Odds are most of the public gravitates to Roethlisberger. If McCarron comes close to 20 points on the back of a big Green or Eifert game, he'll create plenty of space to include Antonio Brown and a high-end running back on your roster. It's an interesting lineup worth mixing and matching with in these highly variance laden tournaments.
Adrian Peterson is really the only one you can consider here, unless DeAngelo Williams bucks expectations and ends up playing. Perhaps some get scared off due to the matchup, and Adrian Peterson did go for 18 yards on eight carries the last time these two teams squared off in Minnesota. Yet, this profiles as a clear Peterson-heavy game. He garnered and average of 20.5 rushes per game in the four games following that Seattle game, where he publicly bemoaned his lack of work afterwards.
With the projected weather in Minnesota on Sunday, Adrian Peterson looks primed for a 25-plus carry game, something he's enjoyed five times this season. Seattle's run defense is as fearsome as ever, allowing the fewest fantasy points per touch (.498) to running backs this season. However, as we talked about late in the season, volume and positive game script correlate much better to running back success than matchups. With Seattle unlikely to jump out to a big lead, due to the weather and Minnesota's pass rush, this is a prime spot for a big vintage Peterson game.
It's looking unlikely, but if DeAngelo Williams plays, he's the best running back on the slate. His combination of volume in a great offense and his own stellar play makes him a no-brainer option.
This is where things get messy. Marshawn Lynch appears and interesting option, especially considering that we expect the weather to force both teams to the ground. Yet, the Vikings have a strong run defense, with their mid-season drop off coming solely on the back of injuries to key players. Minnesota ranks ninth in fantasy points allowed to running backs per touch. Add in the specter of an older running back coming off a long injury absence, and Lynch is hard to get excited about.
Jeremy Hill feels almost completely unable to trust. In games this season where Jeremy Hill did not score a rushing touchdown (10), he averaged 5.01 fantasy points. That is an unreal, cataclysmic bottomless hole of a floor. The Steelers featured a strong rush defense this season, allowing a touchdown on just 1.5 percent, second fewest in the NFL, of the touches against them. Hill could certainly pop in a short touchdown, or two, as he did several times this season, but you know what you're playing with here.
Christine Michael is valued akin to his solid play in two of the last three games. However, with Lynch back, Michael is almost certainly to head back to a reserve, or change of pace role. Perhaps you can make a longshot lineup, in case he somehow maintains the touches lead over a still hobbled Lynch, but there's no logic to support it.
The Chiefs and Texans game should be a slow played contest between two defensive-heavy teams. For that reason, there's some strong indications we should pluck from the running back corps of both teams. For Kansas City, people will go after Charcandrick West, as they remember him for his strong efforts mid-season as a waiver wire pickup in season-long. Truth be told, it's been quite some time since West was that player. In the last two games of the season, with a healthy Spencer Ware back in the fold, West averaged 14.5 touches per game, which is nothing compared to the 25.7 he averaged during that RB1 stretch mid-season. If you're plucking from this Kansas City backfield, pivot down to the far better bargain and goal line back in Spencer Ware. It's a poor matchup anyways, as Houston closed out the final month of the regular season allowing 3.13 yards per carry.
Eddie Lacy feels like the move of the running back group, but we know the headache rolling with him caused this year. Since Week 11 Lacy's week-to-week scoring goes: 10.6, 17.9, 0.1, 20.8, 2.3, 14.8, and 4.1. So, theoretically this should be an up week. Shifting a bit more to actual information, Washington did allow 4.7 yards per carry on the season, and that number actually ballooned to 5.45 in the final month of the year. Theoretically, this is a good spot for him to see 15-plus touches. He's a risk, but the Packers could finally get Lacy going on a consistent basis with their passing game in such trouble.
As we think Lacy is a good play that begs us to at least glance at James Starks. However, Starks only has 24 touches over the last three games. While you could argue he'll see more work if this game turns into a shootout as the more slashing of the two backs, yet he had only three carries and zero catches in Green Bay's big loss to Arizona in Week 16.
There's nothing more tilting than chasing a good Alfred Blue game. We tried that in Week 16 and we got a 15-carry and 45-yard game, which was of course sandwiched between two 20-carry, 100-plus yard games. However, it's worth trying in this spot despite the rough matchup. If Blue ends up with 20 or more carries again, he's a good shot to score a solid point total as a home favorite. If you need the value relief, Blue is a worthy option.
If you're throwing a dart at the Pittsburgh backfield, it'll be at Fitzgerald Toussaint. He played 33 snaps after DeAngelo Williams went down with an injury, the only Steelers running back to get playing time, which is a trend for the Steelers' backfield this season. Excluding the two games where Le'Veon Bell and Williams went down mid-game with injuries, the running back to start the game for Pittsburgh played 92.5 percent of the snaps. It's not a juicy matchup for Toussaint or anything, but the potential for volume in that offense is intriguing.
The most interesting play in the low-end is likely Alfred Morris. When commenting on Matt Jones' health Wednesday, head coach Jay Gruden said, "Unless he shows us some major improvement tomorrow and Friday, he's going to be the odd man out." Jones returned to limited practice prior to Gruden's comments, and is still dealing with a hip pointer suffered against Buffalo in Week 15. Morris racked up 233 rushing yards in the last three games with Jones out or limited, including a 100-yard effort in Week 17. The Packers allowed 5.29 yards per carry over the last month of the season, and gave up a touchdown on 3.2 percent of the touchdowns against them this season (bottom 10 in the NFL).
I mentioned Spencer Ware as the preferred option out of the Chiefs backfield. After looking like an afterthought in Week 16, Ware played 45 percent of the snaps in the final game of the regular season. He out-touched Charcandrick West 16 to 14, and saw 12 carries to West's five in the second half. If you think the Chiefs will win this game, Ware is the clear value play of the Wild Card Weekend in DFS as the team's game-closing hammer. As the team's goal line back, Ware offers more upside than his counterpart. He has seven carries inside the five-yard line for five touchdowns this season, while West has just six for two scores despite playing 339 more snaps than Ware.
Antonio Brown is the highest valued player on the Wild Card slate across the industry. He has a locked-in floor and an other-worldly ceiling. On a short slate, you can find a way to fit him in. Keep in mind though that Brown averaged just 67 receiving yards in his two games against the Bengals this year. He's still the top receiving play on the board.
DeAndre Hopkins owned a 31.3 percent share of the team's passing targets this season, and saw almost 100 more than the next highest targeted player. We know he presents a tangible weekly floor and tremendous ceiling. Hopkins moves around the formation with 46 percent of his snaps coming on the left side, 39 percent on the right and 15 percent in the slot, per Pro Football Focus fantasy. He should move around enough to get matchups with all three of the Chiefs top corners. Marcus Peters (left), Sean Smith (right) and Ron Parker (slot) all took at least 94 percent of their snaps from their designated spots.
If the Steelers vs. Bengals game turns into a shootout, A.J. Green makes for a great stacking piece. As both a piece of a value stack with AJ McCarron, or a game stack compliment to a heavy-Pittsburgh lineup, Green can be a fixture. In his last three home games against the Steelers, Green averages 123.33 receiving yards on 12.67 targets. Pittsburgh ranks 23rd this season in fantasy points allowed to wide receivers per target, with a 64 percent catch rate.
This is probably my favorite group to pick from among wideouts this weekend. The majority of the public will flock to Doug Baldwin at the top of this tier. His wild end of season run landed him atop the NFL in receiving touchdowns. It's hard to turn away from that hot of a hand, but as mentioned earlier, the weather in Minnesota could take the passing game down several notches in this spot. Baldwin also has a tougher matchup with the Vikings most consistent corner, slot maven Captain Munnerlyn. However, Baldwin's involvement in the red zone, where he owns 50 percent of the team's targets since Week 10, and prowess in the short passing game (10.3 average depth of target), makes him still safe option to consider despite any frigid conditions.
The public might not realize how dominant Jeremy Maclin was to close the season. He owned a 38 percent share of the team's passing targets from Week 12 on, catching 76 percent of them and scoring six touchdowns. Four of those six came in the first half of games, making him easy to like regardless of the game script. Of the two former Eagles receivers on new teams valued right next to each other, Maclin looks like the better play than DeSean Jackson. You know what you're getting with Jackson; it's a big play or bust. The public will likely flock to the big name and upside-laden Jackson, but he is third on the team in targets with just a 15 percent share from Weeks 14 to 17, and scored just once.
Martavis Bryant finished the fantasy season with a whimper garnering a measly two points in his final two games combined. For that reason, and being listed behind three more productive players of late, Bryant likely goes under-owned in the Wild Card round. However, this feels like a tremendous bounce back spot for him. Bryant suffered a neck injury in Week 17, and missed most of the final three quarters of that game after struggling in contested situations in the month of December. On the #NarrativeStreet side, Ben Roethlisberger called Bryant out in the media this week, challenging him to play with more "Steelers toughness". Bryant responded positively, saying "It was good for [Roethlisberger] to challenge me, and I'm going to accept it ... I'm happy he did it. He woke me up." As for the on-field matchup, Bryant takes the majority of his snaps at right wideout, which will matchup him up against the Bengals least effective cornerback, Dre Kirkpatrick.
Rounding out the tier, Randall Cobb is only appealing if you think he suddenly breaks out of his season-long stretch of poor play and Washington makes this game a shootout. He should see plenty of Washington's slot corner, Will Blackmon, who they picked up of the street mid-season to disappointing results. Pierre Garcon might go overlooked, but is second on Washington in targets since Week 14, with 27, and scored a touchdown in all of their final three games. Tyler Lockett feels like a strong fade this week, given the weather and his questionable status. The rookie wideout missed practice Wednesday with a hip injury.
In this range, James Jones is the optimal target. While the rest of the Packers offense went to hell after Mike McCarthy took back play-calling duties, despite popular perception, Jones and his hoodie rose to the occasion. Since then, he had target totals of seven, nine, 11 and 13 in the last four games to close out the season. There's still volatility there as Jones posted 191 and a touchdown in Weeks 15 and 17 combined, but 49 and 46 yards in Weeks 14 and 16. Jones should run most of his routes at Washington's right cornerback, undrafted rookie free agent Quinton Dunbar.
Frankly, other than Jones, it doesn't look like there are many reasons to pluck this low on the wide receiver totem pole. Stefon Diggs likely gets erased by the Seattle secondary, while Marvin Jones is tough to trust with just 22 fantasy points since McCarron took over. Markus Wheaton is a solid floor play, but we're chasing tournament winning upside in the playoffs. If you want to close out your DFS season playing Davante Adams, that's on you.
One of the trends that we followed throughout the season was that when either Nate Washington or Cecil Shorts missed games, the other would go off in his teammates' stead. Washington averaged a touchdown per game when Shorts sat, while Shorts averaged 75 yards and eight targets without Washington in the lineup. However, both players might miss this contest after the latter went down in Week 17. Washington did not practice on Wednesday, while Shorts returned after missing the final two games on a limited basis. If one or both sits out here, rookie Jaelen Strong comes into focus as a punt play. After Washington went down, Strong garnered seven targets last week, catching six of them. He's a big receiver who could make a difference in the red zone.
There's no strong logical reason to play Albert Wilson, but he's one of my favorite little-known talents in the NFL. For that reason, and mostly that reason alone, I'll throw some lineups out there with Wilson, just to shout "BERT ALERT", a favorite catchphrase of the NFL Fantasy Stronghold, when he does something of consequence. We're having fun here in playoff DFS, after all. If you need a real reason, Wilson should run at least 50 percent of his routes against Texans rookie corner Kevin Johnson. The first-round defensive back had an up and down year, with spurts of stellar play followed by gaffes courtesy of his inexperience. Wilson is quietly a professional competent route runner, who makes big plays based of deception and savvy, and could get over at least once on Johnson.
Jordan Reed is the highest ranked tight end across the DFS landscape, but is well worth the trouble of squeezing him in. On a short slate with plenty of value to pluck from while embracing variance, it's not even an impossible task. We don't need to tell you just how dominant Reed was to close out the season. He led the team with 28 percent of the targets from Week 12 to 17 and scored four red zone touchdowns.
Tyler Eifert might make for an intriguing contrarian play with A.J. Green likely the top Bengals threat owned, and the public rightfully after Reed. Eifert still leads the NFL in touchdown conversion rate in the red zone among players with at least 10 targets, taking 73.3% of his targets inside the 20 yard line in for six. Don't forget what a dominant presence he can be.
If you're not going up that high for a tight end, Heath Miller is my personal favorite play in the next range. The Bengals gave up 100 receptions to tight ends in 2015, the most in the NFL. Yet, they have a strong fantasy points against looks prohibitive as they only gave up one touchdown. Teams only distributed eight red zone targets to tight ends on the season, which was the fewest against any team. The wide disparity between tight ends feasting between the 20's and then teams just canceling their usage in the scoring area, is astounding. There's a lot of reason to assume some normalizing between all these numbers could take place, making Miller a sneaky play. He's easy to stick on the end of a Ben Roethlisberger/Antonio Brown stack to offer some relief for the rest of your lineup.
The only interesting name here is Kyle Rudolph. The Seahawks have a reputation for struggling against the tight end, and they earned that early in the season. However, they only allowed eight catches to tight ends the last four weeks of the season, the fewest in the NFL during that span. It's hard to justify anyone outside the Reed to Miller range on the slate.
If Luke Willson returns to play, you can consider him as a punt play, or perhaps Cooper Helfet if Willson sits again. Going with a tight end this far down the strong certainly presents the type of contrarian move that can help you in such a small scale slate. However, none of these players stand out as values with big opportunties.
The Seahawks defense might be the top play of the week across the board. The game figures to be low scoring, and the Vikings can't possibly hope to push the ball into the teeth of this secondary. On the turnover front, Brian Burke of ESPN ran a study to show the correlation between cold weather and fumble rate. Adrian Peterson leads the NFL in fumbles by a starting running back with seven.
Houston's defense might go overlooked with the Seahawks as the top play, and the Chiefs carrying more theoretical upside in the same game. However, the Texans are at home, and can easily accumulate sacks and quarterback pressures. Alex Smith is second in the NFL among quarterbacks to start every game in sack rate. He'll fall to the Houston defense rather than put the ball in the air amid hazardous situations for a turnover. The Texans make for a safe floor play if you can't reach Seattle's defense.
If you expect the Packers offense to stay in the tank, you can take Washington as a punt play. Nevertheless, their quality of play on defense is far from comforting. However, they will be under-owned, and carry tournament winning upside if they hit.