Just when I thought I was out, they pull me back in! After signing off last week by saying this was the last Primer of the season (which I’ve now done twice this year), I’m back for one more round. I’ll spare you guys the outro this week, but we have a very exciting conference championship weekend ahead that couldn’t have turned out much better from an entertainment standpoint. The Packers and Seahawks square off in the afternoon game, followed by Colts/Patriots in Foxborough on Sunday night. Let’s get right into it…
We’re dealing with just a two-game schedule this week, so options are predictably slim. Differentiating yourself from the field won’t be easy, but I’ll try to dig deep to find a few players that can help you separate from your opponents in large field tournaments. FanDuel offering a $2M tournament on a two-game slate speaks to the level of growth they’ve experienced recently, and that contest will be a point of emphasis in this week’s Primer. I’ll touch on my favorite cash game plays as well, but I’m personally going to play more GPPs due to the nature of the slate.
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First up is the RotoGrinders Defense vs. Position page, which gives you an idea of how well certain teams defend a particular position. It’s still worth taking each team’s opponents into account when evaluating DvP ranks, but this is one of the tools I value the most, especially with a full season’s worth of data at our fingertips.
Here’s how each of the four teams stack up against QBs on the year (regular season only), including the average number of fantasy points (FanDuel scoring) they’ve allowed to the position:
Quarterbacks: Green Bay – 16th (17.03), Indianapolis – 13th (16.61), New England – 11th (16.42), Seattle – 1st (12.04)
It’s especially hard to rule out Rodgers right from the beginning, but considering he’s on the road and playing injured against the team that has allowed the fewest fantasy points to QBs, he’s not high on my list this week. I’m also expecting the Patriots to employ a run-heavy attack against the Colts Defense that is much stronger in the secondary, which leaves me with Andrew Luck and Russell Wilson as my cash game QBs.
Andrew Luck ($9,200 on FanDuel) vs. New England – Luck has the slight edge over Wilson, since he’s a high-volume passer who should be throwing early and often, with the Colts expected to be playing from behind. While Dan Herron has been vital for the Colts in the postseason, he’s been producing heavily as a receiver (18 receptions over his last two games) and hasn’t been overly effective strictly as a runner (he averaged fewer than 3.0 YPC on 23 totes against Denver). Luck should be locked into 40+ passing attempts, and while he’s not the runner that Russell Wilson is, he’s a threat to add a few points with his legs. New England has been stout against WRs this season (third fewest FPs allowed to the position), but Luck has two viable options at TE in addition to Boom Herron, so he’ll find a way to move the ball on Sunday night.
Running Backs: Indianapolis – 21st (22.05 FPAPG), New England – 16th (20.48), Green Bay – 15th (20.03), Seattle – 5th (17.27)
LeGarrette Blount ($5,400 on FanDuel) – You’ll have to save some cap space somewhere, so why not roll the dice on the Patriots deploying another run-heavy attack against the Colts? If you recall the last time these teams met back in mid-November, the Patriots ran the ball 44 times with Brady attempting just 30 passes. Jonas Gray was the main beneficiary, rushing an absurd 37 times for 201 yards and 4 TDs, but there is a chance he remains inactive this week. Blount is the odds on favorite to lead the team in carries, making him the safest bet among New England backs. I’m not sure the run-heavy approach will work out as favorably this week, but don’t be surprised to see Blount finish with 20-25+ carries. These two teams also happened to meet in last season’s playoffs, and Blount proceeded to run wild for 166 yards and 4 TDs on 24 carries. Peyton Manning had virtually no success against Vontae Davis and Greg Toler last week, so the Patriots would be wise to avoid picking on the secondary as much as possible.
Wide Receivers: Green Bay – 21st (30.07), New England – 3rd (24.56), Indianapolis – 2nd (24.47), Seattle – 1st (19.07)
There is a huge difference here between Green Bay (21st vs. WRs) and the other three teams in action, who just happen to be the three teams that are the best at defending the position. Obviously you won’t be stacking up the Seahawks wideouts, but Doug Baldwin is the safest option of the group and I’ll have some exposure to Jermaine Kearse. With Paul Richardson ruled out, Ricardo Lockette also possesses some GPP appeal if you are trying to be contrarian. With all that said, I’m going off the rails here and recommending a WR that burned a large number of daily gamers last week.
Jordy Nelson ($8,900 on FanDuel) – Nelson was targeted 14 times against Seattle back in Week 1, and I’m expecting him to be heavily involved again this week. A big key will be the health of Byron Maxwell, who basically missed last week’s game with an illness (Pete Carroll called it “shortness of breath”). It doesn’t sound like something that should prevent him from playing after a seven-day layoff, but that remains to be seen. Tharold Simon played every defensive snap last week and was roasted in coverage, so Jordy would get a nice bump if he’s matched up with Simon all day. Even if Maxwell is healthy, Nelson will benefit from playing away from Richard Sherman. Davante Adams may be sacrificed on that side of the field this week, much like the Packers did with Jarrett Boykin in Week 1. Randall Cobb is also a nice upside play, since Rodgers’ ankle is still an issue and he runs shorter/quicker routes than Nelson, but I prefer the latter’s GPP potential.
Tight Ends: Indianapolis – 31st (13.05), Denver – 26th (12.18) New England – 24th (11.16), Seattle – 16th (9.84)
Coby Fleener ($5,500 on FanDuel) vs. New England – Fleener touched up the Pats for 7-144-0 back in November, and the Patriots are likely to make the Colts beat them with a similar approach on Sunday. It’s not wise to target Darrelle Revis, and Aqib Talib/Brandon Browner aren’t easy to beat either, so I’m expecting the Colts to try to beat New England with quick-hitting plays to Fleener/Dwayne Allen and Boom Herron. The Patriots have allowed the 4th most receiving yards to TEs this season, and the position is predictably thin once you get past Gronk, making Fleener the best cap-saving option. I don’t mind using Rob Gronkowski in any format, but I’m having trouble finding the cap space for him in cash games.
Onto the RG Targets page, where you’ll find a breakdown of touches, targets, red-zone targets and percentage of workload, among other stats. It’s an invaluable tool that can help you find players who are in the best positions to succeed; it’s no secret that you want players on your fantasy team who are heavily involved in the offense, especially those that are also key cogs in the red-zone.
Julian Edelman ($7,500 on FanDuel) – The price isn’t great, but Edelman does provide a solid floor for cash games due to his consistent usage. Edelman has averaged just south of 9 targets per game on the year and has seen 12.2 per game over his last five contests (excluding Weeks 16 and 17). I’m suspecting that Edelman will see more of Greg Toler than Vontae Davis, and he could avoid Davis altogether if the Patriots leave LaFell on Davis’ side of the field as they did earlier this year. Even on a limited snap count, Edelman racked up 8 targets and finished with 5-50 despite playing only 35 of 77 snaps after leaving with an injury. As far as targets go, he may actually provide the highest floor among all WRs taking the field this weekend. Edelman is also 5th among WRs in red-zone targets per game, yet another quality we look for in cash game WRs. He’s also very much in play in tournaments with the lack of options at the position.
Donte Moncrief ($5,300 on FanDuel) – I’m expecting the Patriots to limit T.Y. Hilton’s production, something that should lead to more looks for the rookie receiver. Moncrief finished with 2-23 on Sunday against Denver, but was targeted 8 times and almost doubled Hakeem Nicks’ snap count. Reggie Wayne was still second on the team in snaps, but Wayne went without a target in the game, a week after being targeted just twice against Cincinnati. If the Patriots scheme to limit Hilton, expect Moncrief to benefit on the outside. He’s not a surefire cash game play, but I’ll be pairing him up with Andrew Luck on quite a few GPP teams.
Cash Game Targets
Here I’ll list my top two cash game plays at each position and provide a short explanation as to why I’m on them. You are typically shooting for safety in H2H-50/50 contests, but we’ll have to take a few shots in the dark on a short slate.
Andrew Luck - $9,200: He’s as safe a bet for 40+ passing attempts as there is this week, and Vegas thinks the Colts will be playing from behind. The matchup and venue aren’t great, but he looks like the safest play on the board.
Russell Wilson - $8.900: Seattle has the second highest team total of the weekend and Wilson will benefit if Marshawn Lynch continues to struggle. The Packers also happen to allow the 5th most rushing yards to QBs per game.
Marshawn Lynch - $8,600: So, uh, let’s hope Lynch doesn’t continue to struggle. He was efficient on a per-touch basis last week and his usage should go up against Green Bay, who allowed the 15th most fantasy points to RBs in the regular season. Beast Mode finished with 20-110-2 against the Packers back in Week 1, although he’s dealt with some injuries since then. Dan Herron isn’t a bad pivot if you can’t afford Lynch.
LeGarrette Blount - $5,400: I’d feel more comfortable with Herron, but this could be a great spot for Blount if the Patriots game plan the way we expect them to. Shane Vereen and Brandon Bolden will likely get their chances, and it’s possible Jonas Gray is active after being scratched against Baltimore’s elite run defense (a spot where NE knew they would be throwing heavily). Regardless, Blount is the best “big back” on this team and they’ve leaned on him heavily in the playoffs before. Coming in $1,600 cheaper than Herron, the decision between the two is easy for me.
Julian Edelman - $7,500: It’s tough to feel good about it, but I’m finding Edelman to be a staple in my early week cash game lineups. He and Gronk should see a majority of the looks from Tom Brady, especially if Brandon LaFell is left out to dry on Vontae Davis’ side of the field.
Doug Baldwin - $6,200: I wouldn’t even consider Baldwin at this price on a full slate, but he’s the safest bet of the Seattle WRs. Paul Richardson won’t play on Sunday, which should secure some targets for both Baldwin and Jermaine Kearse. Ricardo Lockette may even see some action and I’ll likely have some GPP exposure to him in an effort to set myself apart. As for Baldwin, he’s been the most consistent pass-catcher in terms of targets since Percy Harvin left town.
Rob Gronkowski - $8,200: This one is pretty simple. Gronk is far and away the top option at TE, and he squares away against the team that allowed the 2nd most fantasy points to the position this season. He saw just five targets when these teams met in Week 11, but did finish with 4-71-1. Gronk saw fewer than five targets just once this season, so he’s likely to add to that total this time around.
Coby Fleener - $5,500: Assuming the Colts struggle to get the ball to their WRs, Fleener should see a decent target total. He was easily the Colts top receiver against the Pats back in Week 11, and New England has been known to let teams beat them underneath with TEs when trying to stop perimeter WRs.
Let’s take a look at a player from each position that will help you differentiate on a short-slate, something that is not at all easy to do. Buyer beware: these players are dart throws.
Quarterback – Aaron Rodgers ($9,100) – Looking at the NFL odds, the Packers have the lowest team total of the weekend, and I suspect Rodgers will have the lowest ownership percentage at QB. The ankle is obviously a big concern and Seattle is very tough at home, but this is Aaron Rodgers we’re dealing with here. He’s arguably the best QB in the game and he has enough talent at WR to do damage on one leg. Eddie Lacy isn’t likely to have much success against Seattle’s front, which may force Green Bay to throw it a bunch.
Running Back – Shane Vereen ($5,400) – After the Patriots have gashed the Colts on the ground in the last two meetings, it’s plausible to think that the Colts have finally figured out a way to counteract that strategy. If that’s the case and the Patriots end up trailing for large portions of the game, Vereen should see his snap count spike. LeGarrette Blount will be the more popular of the two (possibly by a wide margin), so pivoting to Vereen makes sense if you are playing a handful of different GPP lineups.
Wide Receiver – Ricardo Lockette ($4,800) – This is the ultimate dart throw of the group. When Paul Richardson went down against Carolina, it was Lockette who replaced him, and Richardson has already been ruled out for Sunday’s game. Lockette should see snaps in three WR sets and could steal a series or two from Doug Baldwin or Jermaine Kearse. He’s primarily a special teams guy, but Lockette is an intriguing big play threat considering the limited options we’re working with.
Tight End – Dwayne Allen ($5,300) – Allen and Fleener are very different players, but I like them for similar reasons. While Allen is a much better bet to produce via touchdowns, he’s the better blocker of the two and doesn’t run as many routes. Allen draws a high percentage of his usage in the red-zone, and I don’t think anyone would be shocked if he managed to find the end zone twice in this spot.