Wild Card Weekend NFL DFS Starting Points: Vegas Lines
You know that targeting the highest scoring games and particularly the teams with the highest implied totals makes sense in fantasy football. This analysis will highlight exactly which situations are the best to take advantage of and which you might want to avoid within those games. We’ll also highlight a couple games to use caution with as well as some less obvious targets. All salaries listed are for FanDuel.
The high scoring games:
Carolina at New Orleans, Total 48.5
New Orleans secured home field advantage for what will be their third meeting with the Panthers. The Saints scored over 30 points in both regular season games, sweeping Carolina. Drew Brees averaged about 250 passing yards and two touchdowns per game, consistent with his season averages and Carolina’s middle of the road pass defense. Brees hasn’t enjoyed home field advantage this year, but Mark Ingram has averaged about seven more fantasy points per game in New Orleans this season. He and Alvin Kamara are two of the only backs to have a lot of success vs. the Panthers this season, our third-most stingy rush defense for fantasy and in terms of rushing yards per game allowed. Kamara is the second-most expensive player on the four-game slate and there are several running backs I’d prefer to pay up for in cash games. Ingram is my preferred RB option from the Saints. Michael Thomas is also expensive, but paired with Brees yields a high-confidence lineup core.
How will the Panthers compete on the road? No one expects them to win this game, but stranger things have happened. Cam Newton was held under 190 passing yards in both games with the Saints this season, but threw for two touchdowns on the road and rushed one in in Week 3. Christian McCaffrey is the most intriguing play from this game, but he has by no means reached his potential in this matchup so far. In one game he had over 100 receiving yards, and he caught a touchdown pass in the other. Should he put those stats together, he could be the bargain play of the week at just $6800. Devin Funchess is also a strong cash game play this week; a reasonable salary, the high total on this game, and his ability to score make him the top receiving threat after McCaffrey. New Orleans has been weirdly good vs. the tight end this season, ranking 31st in fantasy points allowed. Greg Olsen is too expensive for my taste given the recent floor we’ve seen in important games.
Atlanta at Los Angeles, Total 48.5
The line on this game has already come down a point and a half from the open. It will be worth watching to see what happens with it as the week goes on. As the still-high total indicates, there are some defensive matchups to take advantage of here. As good as the Rams have been vs. the pass, they’ve allowed the fifth-most rushing yards per game and fourth-most fantasy points to running backs this season. That puts Devonta Freeman and Tevin Coleman front and center of the running back discussion this week. Freeman is dealing with a sore knee, which has limited his workload to 11 carries in each of the last two games. Vs. Carolina in Week 17, he was surprisingly effective, scoring on one of his nine receptions in the game. He’s the priority play, but if you’re looking for a cheaper, lower-owned tournament option, Coleman could be featured here too. I’d expect a run-heavy game plan as long as the score is reasonably close and using the two backs interchangeably keeps the defense on its toes and keeps both guys fresh.
I understand the idea behind touchdown regression theory of course, but it can’t be used to justify rostering Julio Jones this week. He’s been terrible against good pass defenses (Buffalo, Seattle, Minnesota for a few), while making up roughly a quarter of his season production in one game vs. Tampa Bay. He’s not 100 percent, and though his target share and talent are undisputable, he’s not a safe player to spend on this week vs. a top Rams secondary. That goes for Matt Ryan too, who hasn’t thrown for more than one touchdown in a game since Week 11, and didn’t have a single 3 TD game in 2017.
The Rams offense has run very efficiently, and as much credit as Jared Goff deserves for his improvement this year, it’s mainly down to Todd Gurley. Gurley has been flat-out amazing, leading the league in both rushing and receiving touchdowns (for a RB), and just missing the yardage title because he sat out the team’s final regular season game. It should be worth paying up for the most expensive player this week, in all formats, because there aren’t too many alternate ways I can envision making up for the kind of production he should have.
This is a situation where I’ll use the QB-RB stack. The Rams have three quality wide receivers—Robert Woods, Cooper Kupp and Sammy Watkins—who have traded big games throughout the season. Therefore, it makes sense to capture all the touchdowns with a QB-RB stack rather than guess on one of the WRs. Of course, in a tournament lineup, I like the idea of rotating in each of the Rams pass-catchers, since they are affordable and all three have some upside. Kupp’s and Watkin’s big-play ability could be a factor here, while Woods is likely going to see the most targets.
The low scoring games:
Buffalo at Jacksonville, Total 39
Vegas loves the Jags this week, but it’s probably not their offense driving this line. Although Blake Bortles had been playing really strong football to close out the season, he struggled in a meaningless Week 17 game in Tennessee. Tennessee is a better pass defense than you think, but not nearly as good as the Buffalo Bills, who have allowed just 14 passing touchdowns with 18 interceptions. I’m worried about Bortles in this one, and can’t see using any of his receivers either, outside of a salary-saving tournament flier (Dede Westbrook or Keelan Cole are probably the best candidates there).
The MVP of this game should be Leonard Fournette, who battled some injuries but overall had a very impressive rookie season, finishing third in rushing touchdowns and in the top 10 for carries and rushing yards (1040). To make matters even better, no team has allowed more fantasy points to opposing running backs than the Bills. Buffalo ranked first in rushing yards allowed while also surrendering 18 rushing touchdowns and two receiving touchdowns to opposing rushers. It’s hard to fit both Gurley and Fournette, but worth trying.
No matter who wins this game, hearts will be warmed, since neither team has been good in forever. The Bills broke the longest playoff drought, and where I’m from, fans are walking on air just to have a shot to advance. The Jaguars vaunted DEF is all that stands in their way. Allowing the fewest passing yards in the league (192 pa yds per game), and just 8 touchdowns to wide receivers, Tyrod Taylor and Kelvin Benjamin or Zay Jones are hard to justify in this matchup (but see below where I do it).
Like the Bills, but to a lesser extent, the Jaguars are most susceptible to the run. The issue is that LeSean McCoy hurt his ankle pretty badly last week, and his status is firmly up in the air at this point. Marcus Murphy ($5400) becomes an interesting option if McCoy is ruled out, as he was effective in a limited role after the injury. Mike Tolbert is still a threat to vulture any goal line carries, however, making this situation one to first monitor carefully, and second, hedge your lineups so you don’t end up with too much exposure to the uncertainly of either Murphy or Tolbert. The one caveat to this paragraph is that using Tyrod Taylor at QB makes the Gurley-Fournette lineup a lot easier to construct. He’s had his bad games, but he’s reached value even in some difficult situations, and Taylor’s non-traditional style of play and mobility can be an advantage against a strong secondary like Jacksonville’s.
Tennessee at Kansas City, Total 44.5
The Chiefs have an implied team total that I can believe in. I think there’s a good chance Alex Smith has one of his best games since the early days of this season, and I’m liking a stack with Tyreek Hill and Travis Kelce. Tight end is tough on this slate, and despite the likely high ownership, I don’t mind locking down Kelce in a majority of contests. I’ve been noting for a few weeks now that Tennessee is a better run defense than you might realize, allowing the third-fewest rushing yards per game and only nine total touchdowns to running backs this season. Kareem Hunt bounced back from a mid-season slump over the last few weeks of the season, but he’s not a high priority RB for me this week. I think the Chiefs rely heavily on the pass game to win this game and that Hunt will struggle to get near 100 yards, as only Todd Gurley has done since Week 4.
Notice we haven’t talked much about defense, though several good ones take the field this weekend. The Chiefs are my top option, mainly because I find it hard to afford the Jaguars, who should be most popular. The Titans and Bills are the only two teams in the playoffs to fall in the bottom half of the league in points scored per game. While the Chiefs rank last in giveaways, they rank seventh in takeaways, for the second-best differential in the league. The DvP to QB and WR make Marcus Mariota and Rishard Matthews interesting on paper, but I think in reality the Titans are more likely to kick a few field goals than pass for a few touchdowns in Arrowhead. Derrick Henry is now $1000 more than DeMarco Murray, who is questionable again with the knee sprain. Henry had a great outing vs. Jacksonville, though most of his fantasy points came on one big receiving play. With Kansas City being somewhat susceptible to good runners, I don’t hate the Titans backs, but like I said at the outset, I’m relying on the Chiefs D/ST a lot, so I won’t be rostering Henry much.