Wow! What a crazy weekend of football! Philadelphia stuns all doubters while rewarding the loyalty of their fans. The Vikings thrilled their fanbase with the Minnessota Miracle, and the Jags held off the Steelers in a ridiculous high scoring affair that no one really expected. Of course, New England gave us the least thrilling chalk game of the week, but there was still plenty of fantasy production.
This week, because there are only two games on the slate, we are just going to dive into each game. Within these games I identify some must start Draft Kings players and potential sneaky bargains. We will look at some potential mega stacks (4 or more players from the same team) that will help us to be contrarian. Let’s dig into it!
AFC Championship: Jaguars @ Patriots
Many of your lineups will be heavy on players from this game because it is projected to have about 8 points more than the NFC Championship game. With a 46.5 over/under and the Patriots favored by 8.5, we can expect the Patriots to score early and often with the Jags playing catch up. Of course this expectation comes with a great risk of let down.
Tom Brady – $7700
The majority of DFS players playing multiple lineups will drop stacks on Tom Brady ($7700) as the matchup, based on the last 4 weeks’ data, is too good. The Jags have given up the most fantasty points and touchdowns to QBs recently, and Tom has been the best QB over that span on this limited slate.
Dion Lewis – $8100/Rex Burkhead – $5400
On top of that, the Jags have given up the most receiving yards and recptions to opposing running backs, making Dion Lewis a beautiful stack option depending on the availability of Rex Burkhead. If Burkhead plays this week and information coming out of practice is positive, then Lewis has to be faded because of his price and Burkhead could be a steal, especially since the Jags have given up the most rushing TDs in recent weeks.
Brandin Cooks – $6100/Chris Hogan – $5000/Danny Amendola – $5500
At receiver for the Patriots, we have ourselves a little bit of a pickle. Brandin Cooks is the cheapest he has been in a long time, if not all season. He is the definition of a tournament play, and given the defense they are facing many people could be fading Cooks. If you need to save about $1100, Hogan could be a solid play as I still believe in his potential inside the 10. Danny Amendola came out on fire last week with 11 receptions for 112 yards on 13 targets. It feels like chasing points playing him this week as there wasn’t a ton of damage done by Pittsburgh over the middle against the Jags. Overall, the biggest worry for Patriots receivers is the number of options they have in the passing game. Don’t let the perception of the Jags defense scare you. They have given up the most receiving TDs and the 2nd most fantasy points to wideouts over the last four weeks.
Rob Gronkowski – $7900
Last but not least, we have Gronk. We all saw what Vance McDonald did against the Jags last week (16 targets, 10 recs, 112 yds), and Gronk is easily the best passing game option. Even though he isn’t used the same way McDonald was last week, he is an absolute must stack with Brady in this game. Tom will never go away from Gronk, Belechick is going to attack the Jags weakness, and the Jags have given up the most receiving yards and TDs to tight ends out of conference championship competitors over the last four weeks. Yes it will be an expensive stack, but I don’t care.
Patriots D/ST – $3500
The reason to play them is easy. This defense has been really good at generating pressure recently, has improved in the secondary, and as a result has held their last three opponents to 16 points or less. The thing that concerns me is the expected game script. Based on the spread in this game the indication is that the Patriots will score enough points to put the Jags in extreme catch up mode. This is going to force Bortles to put the ball in the air which has two extremely different outcomes in the past. We could end up seeing the Garbage Time King of years past show up where the Jags inexplicably hang a number of second half TDs on this defense. The other side of that is these shots down the field end up as picks, which Bortles is known to do. The range of outcomes here concerns me enough to fade this defense at the second highest price on the slate.
Blake Bortles – $5000
Blake Bortles has been far from great since the playoffs began averaging 13 completions on 25 attempts for about 150 yards and a touchdown. That is very ugly and even at a $5000 price tag, it may not be worth the savings. Even including his 60-yard per game rushing average, you might end up with 16 points, barely above 3x value. However, there is potential for Bortles to hit 4x value if one of his rushing attempts end up in a score. New England has given up the 2nd most points to passers and the most points to wide receivers over the last 4 weeks. While I believe that Marcus Mariota is a better real life QB than Bortles, there is a possibility that there could be more opportunities for him if the defense plays like we know it can play.
Leonard Fournette – $7200/T.J. Yeldon – $4200
Leonard Fournette is a fade for me this week as New England has been markedly better against the run. Evidence of this shows up in Derrick Henry‘s line as the Patriots held him to an abyssmal 49 total yards. The Patriots haven’t given up a TD to a running back on the ground or through the air in recent weeks. Fournette benefits from positive game scripts, but it figures to work against him this week. However, if the Jags D keeps them in the game then Fournette could be a solid choice with lower than normal ownership. The crazy thing is that Fournette hasn’t been scripted out of a game, but once this year. He will be a difficult choice to make for your lineups.
On the other hand, T.J. Yeldon may be the better option with $3k in savings. Yeldon has been utilized often in obvious passing situations. If the game script goes the way we expect, Yeldon has an opportunity to be a steal.
Marquis Lee – $4400/Dede Westbrook – $3900
At receiver, it’s hard to trust anyone simply because we cannot trust Bortles. However, maybe that changes a little bit this week. As mentioned earlier, New England has allowed the most points to receivers over the last 4 weeks which is encouraging. The challenge is which receiver do we play. Two weeks ago, Westbrook was highly targeted, but last weekend he only saw three. Marquis Lee figured to be a bigger factor once returning, but he has hardly been productive. The great thing is that these guys are nice cheap fill-ins with high upside that we have seen at points during this season. If the Jags end up in catch-up mode at least one of these guys could get to 4x value.
Jaguars D/ST – $2800
We know how to beat the Patriots: get to Tom Brady early and often. This has been the formula for the few teams that have actually accomplished this feat in the last decade. The Jaguars are a young and talented defense of which many may expect Brady to take advantage. We know the potential of this defense to get to the quarterback with four, and as the least expensive defense on the slate how can we not take a chance here that the Jaguars surprise and stun us as they have all season by showing up in the biggest challenge of their season. The Draft Kings price and the Vegas odds suggest this will be a super low-owned option. While risky, the upside is clear if we are right.
NFC Championship: Vikings @ Eagles
With two of the better defenses in the NFL this game projects to be pretty low scoring. Looking at recent weeks, Philadelphia has been the best against opposing passers, receivers, and tight ends. The Eagles are the 2nd most vulnerable team to running backs, but that is mostly through the air. On the other side, Minnesota has been the 2nd best defense against every position during the same span. Vegas reflects the effect these defenses will have in this game with a 38 point over/under, giving the Vikings 3-point egde.
Nick Foles – $4800
Nick Foles registered a passer rating over 100 for the first time since playing the Giants, however if you watched the first quarter of that game one would never have guessed that. There was a total duck of a throw that ended up drawing a pass interference call, but it became evident that the wind played a huge factor as Matt Ryan had one hang up on him as well. There was also a would-be interception that bounced off the defender’s knee right back to Smith.
Foles presents an interesting contrarian option as Brees may have illuminated a few cracks in the Vikings armor. On top of that, the Vikings haven’t played many teams that run as many RPO, play-action, or read option plays as the Eagles so that could introduce some opportunities for Foles to move the ball if the offensive line holds up. I would personally bet on Foles to return 4x value before Bortles does, but just as the world bet against the Eagles last week, this could be a super low-ownership play.
Jay Ajayi – $5200
Another factor for Foles’ potential success involves his running backs as the numbers show that Minnesota has given up the most receiving TDs, 2nd most receiving yards to running backs, and 2nd most passing TDs over the past 4 weeks. Ajayi and Clement have been doing a lot of damage in the passing game to move the chains.
This is going to be the week to play Jay Ajayi. Many analysts, including hobbyists like myself, have been betting on this to happen for weeks. The one thing killing us all when we do invest in Ajayi is the rotation of these running backs. Blount vultured the only touchdown for the Eagles last week, and Clement seems to cut into the passing down work. Doug Pederson seems to be keeping Ajayi fresh while keeping the defense on their toes as to how they are defending the running backs. Pederson said this week that sometimes they elect to go uptempo which keeps the running back on the field out there for more snaps.
Aside from the contrarian angle, I like Ajayi to continue maximizing his touches. He had 98 scrimmage yards including 3 receptions last week and a fumble which amounts to 10 points. While that is not terribly encouraging, imagine for a minute that he doesn’t fumble that ball and also scores later that drive. At that point we are talking about near 4x value. Keep in mind that the Vikings have been markedly worse on the road against the run. If you are going to fill the leftover spots in your stud filled rosters, you have to be contrarian to have that outside chance of scoring big in these GPPs. Ajayi seems like a solid candidate for that role.
Alshon Jeffrey – $4600/Nelson Agholor – $4800
Alshon and Agholor could be sneaky options in the passing game, but of course Foles is a critical dependency in their production. Just looking at Michael Thomas’ and Tedd Ginn’s production in last week’s game shows that it’s not impossible to throw on Minnesota. Between them they had 15 receptions for 157 yards and 2 TDs which is good for 42 points. If that production can be replicated then you are getting close to that 4x return on investment. Michael Thomas is more dynamic than Alshon, but Agholor appears to be a better route runner than Foles. If Foles can stay upright, these back-to-back, #1 seed, home dogs should fly while many expect them to be grounded.
Zach Ertz – $5300/Trey Burton – $2500
Between Tedd Ginn and Josh Hill the Vikings looked to be vulnerable to crossing routes and routes run from the slot. Agholor should be able to do some damage on these types of routes, but that work could easily go to Zach Ertz ($5300). Foles has leaned on Ertz to move the sticks in the past which gives him the potential for volume. His price may be tough to justify, but a super low-owned really contrarian option that people will tend to sleep on is Trey Burton at the bargain bin price of $2500. He was only targeted once last week, but if that pass was on target it was a touchdown or pretty close to it. He only needs to hit 10 points to return great value, which is entirely possible given the frequency with which Pederson uses Burton in “12” personnel (2 tight end set) or as a fullback.
Eagles D/ST – $3000
Case Keenum’s improbable season has me a little worried about this particular defense only because he has shown great ability to extend plays, taking advantage of secondaries while scrambling. Because the Eagles secondary has been vulnerable at times I would be tempted to fade them here. The one thing that is encouraging for this defense it’s how the defensive line matches up against that offensive line. The Eagles are one of the best at generating pressure this season, and last week they had 3 sacks and 11 hits on Matt Ryan last week. If the Eagles are able to eliminate scramble plays from Keenum, then its a fair expectation that pressure will translate to turnovers, which the Eagles are 5th in forcing drives to end with turnovers.
The Vikings will be riding high as the travel to Philadelphia especially after that miracle at home to earn them the victory over New Orleans. The change in crowd volume on the videos of that event was nuts. Will they be able to pull off a road win to have the first ever home Super Bowl? Are there fantasy points to be had? Let’s see if we can find some.
Case Keenum – $6600
Case Keenum at $6600 seems expensive. Yes, he has been crafty and yes, he has made some great plays, but there has to be a little bit of concern when facing a defense that is potentially just as good as the Vikings. The Vikings offensive line has allowed 2 sacks and 8 hits on the quarterback in 29 attempts. A 30 % hit/sack rate is a really high rate to deal with and presents a higher chance of turnovers.
If Keenum can stay upright though, he should be able to take advantage of this secondary. Philadelphia is the best against fantasy QBs and receivers recently, mostly because they have limited scoring, but some believe there is reason to fear Keenum’s ability. This ability has allowed Keenum to make magic happen against the odds and the doubters. As the second most expensive passer on the slate, I do expect his ownership to be up there as well because many people still doubt the Eagles secondary.
Adam Thielen – $7400/Stefon Diggs – $6900
Another factor that make Keenum intriguing is the breadth of receiving options that he has available. Diggs and Thielen have been the most dynamic pair of receivers that the Eagles have seen this season. They are priced as the top two receivers on the slate which is interesting for a game with such a low over/under. Recent history should have us all leaning towards Diggs as the receiver to select in this matchup. He has had a score in each of his last four games and at least 5 receptions for 30+ yards during that span.
Thielen, on the other hand, has not scored recently, but perhaps he is due. He has had 6 receptions and at least 60 yards in his last two games. Thielen does perform well in these circumstances (on the road against top half defenses) with the splits showing that he averages almost 20 points. If he puts up that type of line he will not quite reach 3x value though, which makes him a potential fade for me.
Jerick McKinnon – $5100
Keenum also has Jerick McKinnon as a passing option who also matches up well against the Eagles run defense. Looking at the last few games, it could be seen that the defense could be had on the edges when facing dynamic running backs. It will never be understood why the Falcons went away from Tevin Coleman who averaged 7.9 yards on 10 carries and had one reception for 14 yards. With McKinnon being the cheaper running back option at $5100, he could be the biggest steal on the whole slate.
Kyle Rudolph – $4500
Kyle Rudolph could potentially be a sneaky play at the tight end position. Even though the Eagles have been the best of remaining playoff teams against position recently, the tight ends they have faced include Evan Engram, Jared Cook, Jason Witten, and Austin Hooper. This list contains no current fantasy studs save for maybe Evan Engram who is a rising rookie. On the season however, Philadelphia has been the worst of the remaining teams against tight ends in both receptions and yards. During weeks 5 through 10 Rudolph averaged 8 targets and converted it to an average of 5 receptions for 43 yards. He also had two scores during this span and if he can pull off that same line with a score, he will return 3x value which is more than we can ask for at this price.
Vikings D/ST – $3800
The Vikings are the most expensive defense because of their performance on the year and the quarterback of their opposition: Nick Foles. Looking at their performance on the season the Vikings are 3rd in drives ending in a score, 2nd best against the run, 2nd best against the pass, and they lead the league in getting off the field on third down. This is very encouraging, but a lot of fantasy points come from turnovers and scoring on defense. Minnesota has only one return score on a punt, but no pick-6’s and no fumble return TDs. Another factor of concern is that the Vikings are 23rd in total takeaways. While we get the bonuses for opponent point threshold, the real points come from those takeaways and special teams scores. Bottom-line is their ceiling isn’t all that high for the most expensive defense, but there is a great chance of a great floor in this game.
Stacks to Play
We all know the value of stacks, but mega stacks can separate your lineups from the crowd. Many people fear being too invested in a single team because of a perceived possibility of missing out on opportunities in other games. These mega stacks can have the high upside if they hit. There are game script narratives that are highly probably for some stacks like the Patriots, and while the cost of playing a lot of these players is high, the separation from the pool is worth it. When these expected narratives are negative for a given team, there is an opportunity to stack contrarian factors on top of each other which would be the case for an Eagles stack. The benefit to stacks like this is that they are crazy cheap allowing for studs in other games to fill our lineups.
Brady, Gronk, Burkhead, Cooks, Patriots D/ST – $30600 (61% of Salary)
This is a crazy expensive stack leaving about $4k average for your four remaining spots. This stack depends heavily on the expected game script of Patriots dominance. Because the Jaguars will have to respond by putting the ball in the air, the inexpensive Jags receivers could fill the remaining receiver slots with Yeldon or Ajayi as the other running back with a flyer like Jarius Wright at $3000 who figures to see the least effective coverage in the Eagles secondary.
Bortles, Westbrook, Yeldon, Jaguars D/ST – $15900 (31.8% of Salary)
For about half the cost we can stack Jags. This may seem like a foolish play or a waste of an entry fee, but what if the Jags put up points against New England either in a chasing effort or an unlikely shootout? If that happens and this stack blows up then you are working with about $6800 per player for 2 more receivers, a running back, a tight end, and a flex. I believe anyone can get creative with that kind of cap space. Even if you decide to go with Fournette over Yeldon, you would still have about $6k per position to fill.
Foles, Agholor, Ajayi, Ertz, Eagles D/ST – $23100 (46% of Salary)
In another unlikely stack, we burn a little less than half our cap. While this is more expensive than the 4-way stack of the Jags, it will be worth it if some how the 2013 version of Foles shows up. If Foles performs better in the red zone and the Eagles minimize their offensive turnovers, then this stack will pay dividends in GPPs. This stack also leaves you $6.7k per player to fill the remaining RB, 2 WR, and flex positions. You could add Dion Lewis and Gronk and still have $5.5k left for your WRs!
Keenum, McKinnon, Theilen, Diggs, Vikings D/ST – $29800 (60% of Salary)
Many doubt the Eagles defense’s ability to stop the Vikings offense. If the majority is correct, and the Vikings are to win in a convincing fashion then the members of this stack will be the likely catalyst/benefactors. This game is not going to get done on the ground for the Vikings and if the Vikings D is as good as the stats indicate then there should be plenty of receiving opportunities. This just as expensive as the Patriots stack so this may be more of a pivot if you believe in the Jaguars. It may behoove DFS players to fade one of the receivers to diversify your lineup, but as it stands you will be working with about $4k per remaining position.
This is a lot to digest for such a small slate, but as one of the last slates of the season we need to digest all of the angles we can to get an edge. Enjoy the weekend and the games!