AFC & NFC Championship DFS Preview

KEEP BUYING PLAYOFF LENNY

Ronald Jones (quad) continues to try and play through the pain, but it’s been abundantly clear he’s functioning at less than 100%. This hasn’t stopped the Buccaneers from feeding him 25 combined carries over the past two weeks; just realize the third-year back is seemingly at high risk of re-aggravation or even being a pregame scratch.

Enter Leonard Fournette, who has dominated usage over the past two weeks:

  • Wild Card: 19-93-1 rushing, 4-39-0 receiving, 85% snaps

  • Divisional Round: 17-63-0 rushing, 5-44-1 receiving, 68% snaps

RoJo is a perfectly fine contrarian tournament option, but I want whatever anyone who is projecting him for more touches than Fournette is smoking.


The Buccaneers easily boast the week's most favorable matchup in the trenches against the Packers’ 31st-ranked defense in yards before contact allowed per rush. Cam Akers certainly proved capable of running over this defense last week, but a negative game script prevented the Rams from leaning too heavily on their talented rookie RB. Don’t be surprised if Tampa Bay attempts to #EstablishTheRun early, particularly to the right behind Tristan Wirfs where they boast the week’s third-best directional combined yards before contact rate.

2. IT’S PROBABLY WORTH PAYING UP FOR A-ARON JONES

The Packers’ RB1 is the most expensive back on the DraftKings slate at $6,500. The problem: Aaron Jones still isn’t getting a true three-down role. Overall, Jones (63% snaps, 14 carries, 2 targets) led the way, but Jamaal Williams (37%, 12, 0) and even A.J. Dillon (12%, 6, 0) were also plenty involved. There’s no doubt who the best back of the group is; coach Matt LaFleur just continues to refrain from giving Jones a featured role. This probably shouldn’t be overly surprising; it did take LaFleur three months to decide playing Derrick Henry ahead of Dion Lewis was a good idea all the way back in 2018.

The Buccaneers have been one of the league’s best run defenses all season, and things could be especially tough for the Packers with DT Vita Vea (leg, IR) expected to return to action for the first time since Week 5. The impact of Vea's return can't be overstated: Only Aaron Donald (94.2) posted a better PFF grade than Vea (90.1) among 137 qualified interior defenders this season.

Still, there’s a fairly clear path to success for Jones: Use him as a receiver. LB Devin White is a fantastic pass-rusher and possesses sidelined-to-sideline speed, but he ultimately ranks 90th among 99 qualified players at the position in PFF coverage grade. There’s isn’t a better mismatch for the Packers to exploit on offense.



3. DAVANTE ADAMS HASN’T BEEN THIS CHEAP SINCE THE TRUMP ADMINISTRATION (WEEK 7)

Adams’ $8,000 price tag is tied with Travis Kelce for the highest mark on the DraftKings main slate, but this is still relatively cheap compared to what we’re used to seeing Adams. Just last week he was priced at $8,600, and the NFL’s best WR was above the $9,000 mark throughout December.

Yes, Carlton Davis helped limit Adams to a pedestrian (for him) 6-61-0 line on 10 targets back in Week 6. Also yes, that was Adams’ first game back from injury and marked the only time all season that his all-world QB was anything resembling mortal.

Adams has caught at least six passes in every game that he’s been healthy in this season. Last week demonstrated that even the presence of Jalen Ramsey isn’t enough to shut down fantasy football’s clear-cut WR1; don’t expect Davis to produce a different result.

This isn’t a slight on Davis, who has emerged as one of the league’s best pure shadow corners. Rather, the reality of the situation is that Adams 1) usually has enough volume to make up for reduced efficiency, and 2) is good enough to win against literally any cornerback alive. Don’t fade Adams in DFS; not even if there’s a fire.

4. RANKING THE SUB-$4,000 WRS BY WHO MAKES YOU THROW UP THE LEAST

We basically have seven somewhat viable wide receivers priced under $4,000 on DraftKings this week. None are exactly a screaming value; there’s a reason they’re this cheap. Still, we can galaxy brain our way into believing in the upside of at least a few:

  • Marquez Valdes-Scantling ($3,900): The NFL’s leader in yards per reception, MVS is just as likely to make a game-changing play as he is to drop a surefire TD. Regardless, he’s the premiere deep-shot threat for arguably the league’s single-best downfield gunslinger. Fade with caution in DFS, particularly in lineups with Aaron Rodgers.

  • Sammy Watkins ($3,800): The Lizard King has returned to practice after missing Week 17 and the Divisional Round with a calf injury. Watkins has regularly played a near every-down role when healthy over the past three years and has posted more than stellar 6-62-0, 4-114-0, 2-76-0, 7-114-1 and 5-98-0 receiving lines in five playoff games with the Chiefs.

  • Scott Miller ($3,400): Antonio Brown (knee) hasn’t been able to practice all week and should be considered questionable for Sunday. Miller would leap up to the top of this list if AB is ultimately sidelined, but the speedy second-year field-stretching WR is capable of catching a deep ball or two either way. Even with Tyler Johnson also seeing some time, Miller holds the edge thanks to his fantasy-friendly air yard advantage.

  • Gabriel Davis ($3,500): The No. 4 WR in Buffalo is still on the field for nearly half of the offense’s snaps because Josh Allen and company have neither the time nor inclination to run the damn ball. Yes, Davis goose-egged in the Bills’ Divisional Round win over the Ravens, but this did include two fantasy-friendly end-zone targets (one of which Davis dropped). A bounce-back performance from the rookie WR isn’t out of the question, particularly if the Bills find themselves in comeback mode early.

  • Equanimeous St. Brown ($3,000): The third-year receiver has quietly been stealing snaps away from MVS during the second half of the season. Yes, St. Brown hasn’t caught more than two passes in a game all season. Also yes, he’ll undoubtedly carry the lowest ownership of any Green Bay pass-catcher and is priced at the stone-cold minimum. ESB can be slotted into stars-and-scrubs builds as a salary-saving option; just realize there’s a brutal zero-point floor here.

  • Demarcus Robinson ($3,700): Robinson surpassed 50 yards in a game on just three occasions in 2020 despite regularly playing a near full-time role. This is because the Chiefs generally prefer to use him as a blocker. The expected return of Sammy Watkins will likely push Mecole Hardman out of three-WR sets instead of Robinson, but we did see stretches during the regular season with Robinson and Hardman splitting reps to an extent with everyone else healthy. I have a hard time justifying too much exposure to the least-explosive member of the Chiefs’ passing attack when Watkins and Hardman are just as affordable.

  • Isaiah McKenzie ($3,100): The Bills usually try to get McKenzie a designed touch or two per game, but unfortunately Andre Roberts has been getting the bulk of return duties. If you’re feeling schwifty and truly want to get contrarian with either at least make sure to stack with the Bills D/ST.

5. I’VE GOT A FEVER AND THE ONLY PRESCRIPTION IS MORE JOHN BROWN

There’s an argument to be made that the artist known as Smokey Brown has the single-highest cost-adjusted ceiling in the Conference Championship slate. He was goose-egged back in Week 6 against the Chiefs but was playing at far less than 100% and accordingly missed the next game. We more recently saw Brown catch eight of 11 targets for 62 scoreless yards against the Ravens, showing off plenty of toe-drag swag along the way.

The Chiefs love to play press coverage and dare their opponent to throw the rock deep; no defense faced a higher percentage of deep-ball attempts in 2020. The potential for 1) Stefon Diggs to understandably draw most of the Chiefs’ attention, and 2) Brown to see the bulk of Josh Allen’s deep-ball attempts, makes the Bills’ No. 2 outside WR a prime target in DFS formats of all shapes and sizes.


6. FADING TRAVIS KELCE? IN THIS ECONOMY? COULDN’T BE ME

Patrick Mahomes‘ 6.5-yard average target depth against the Bills marked just the third time all season that he posted a mark under seven yards. Dismissing either Tyreek Hill or Kelce at this point is fantasy suicide; the former possesses enough speed to win literally any matchup, while the latter leads the NFL in receiving yards since 2018 (including playoffs). And without playoffs? Kelce ranks second behind only DeAndre Hopkins. Madness.

Ultimately, the drastic pricing discrepancy between Kelce and the rest of the tight ends is wild, but warranted. Kelce caught at least eight passes in nine games this season; no other TE in NFL history has racked up more than seven such games during a single season. There truly isn’t a bigger anomaly in terms of projected production compared to the rest of the position than Kelce; find a way to squeeze anybody’s idea of a true No. 1 receiver into DFS lineups.

7. TWO-TE LINEUPS MIGHT JUST BE CRAZY ENOUGH TO WORK ON THIS SMALL SLATE

Previous paragraph aside: Don’t be afraid to stack Kelce with Robert Tonyan or Rob Gronkowski. The reality that both Tonyan and Gronk have higher target projections than the bulk of the slate’s sub-$4,000 WRs reinforces the idea that going with a double-TE stack not only produces a more contrarian roster construction, but also might just lead to higher overall projected lineups.

Basically, Tonyan and Gronk represent far better salary-saving options than anything we have at WR, so treat Kelce as the FLEX-level producer that he’s been all season while saving money with actually relevant TE1s. I lean Tonyan over Gronk, but it’s fairly close:

  • Gronkowski had one of his best games of the season against the Packers, catching five of eight targets for 78 yards and a score. He's limped to a 1-14-0 receiving line on six targets over the past two weeks but is set up with the best matchup among Buccaneers receivers. Don't be surprised if TB12 looks toward his longtime BFF near the goal line if Jaire Alexander winds up shadowing Mike Evans.

  • Tonyan has four more TDs than incompletions on targets this season. Madness. He’s scored in six of his last eight games and is regularly featured around the goal line. Similar to the Gronk reasoning: It’d make sense if Rodgers looks to Tonyan even more often this week in scoring position with the defense likely devoting most of their resources to slow down Adams.

8. WHY MIKE EVANS INVESTORS SHOULDN’T BE TERRIFIED OF JAIRE ALEXANDER

It’s been frustrating to see the Buccaneers not consistently give Evans more opportunities in tough matchups. Yes, the likes of Alexander and Marshon Lattimore among others deserve credit for making life difficult for Evans this season, but it’s not like we have examples of the Buccaneers’ No. 1 WR getting shut down with a high target total. Overall, Evans has had six games with fewer than five targets after having just five such games in 2014-2019 combined.

Tom Brady’s reluctance to feed Evans in tough matchups is problematic in expecting Evans to win out over Alexander. It’s certainly possible he makes the most out of his limited opportunity; we are looking at a WR/CB matchup with seven-inch height and 30-pound weight discrepancies. Additionally, Alexander hasn’t traveled with a single WR since Week 7, and Evans spends enough snaps in the slot to escape PFF’s No. 1 CB for stretches of the game even if the shadow date comes to fruition.

Ultimately, Chris Godwin deserves to have the higher target and fantasy point projection from the friendly confines of the slot. The Packers boast the league's second-best defense in fewest yards per attempt allowed to targets aligned in the slot, but Godwin is a special talent and capable of winning against anyone. Check out the Wednesday edition of The PFF Fantasy Football Podcast for more analysis on the Buccaneers’ passing attack.

9. FAVORITE GAME STACKS FOR EVERY SINGLE QB REMAINING (SO, FOUR)

I’ll go out on a limb here and say that Aaron Rodgers, Tom Brady, Josh Allen and Patrick Mahomes are good at football. It’s fair to give Allen the nod when it comes to the best overall matchup, but even then the Chiefs managed to cause all kinds of problems for this Bills passing game in their first meeting. Looking at projected pressure would indicate TB12 is set up best, although it’s risky business to get away from the top two MVP candidates.

Basically: All four QBs are viable options in this small slate, and it’s tough to argue one is a significantly better option than the others. I lean toward Rodgers scoring the most fantasy points; just realize there’s a path to success for each option.

With this in mind, my favorite game stack for each QB is as follows:

10. FLIP A FOUR-SIDED COIN ON DEFENSE IF YOU CAN FIND ONE

The D/ST position is the most random of them all in fantasyland. The hometown Packers and Chiefs deserve the benefit of the doubt, but the Bills and Buccaneers defenses have arguably been playing better football in recent weeks than their higher-priced opponents.

Ultimately, don’t be afraid to pay down at defense if it means you’re able to construct the rest of your lineup appropriately. Stacking your defense with the same team’s return man and/or running back provides some solid correlation; just realize this sort of small two-game slate is inherently more prone to randomness than usual.

I plan on having most of my exposure to the Bills due to the likelihood that the Buccaneers garner most of the ownership as the cheapest available option. Is playing any defense against Patrick Mahomes and company terrifying? Absolutely, although a limited version of Mahomes (foot) certainly helps matters.

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