NFL DFS Starting Points: Divisional Round
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. DK=DraftKings, FD=FanDuel.
The playoffs continue with a dramatic switch from defense (which didn’t work out so well) to OFFENSE!! Woo-hoo, let’s score some points. Onto an overview of the four game Divisional Round slate…
Indianapolis at Kansas City, Total 57
Featuring the league’s two highest scoring QBs in Patrick Mahomes and Andrew Luck, it’s no surprise that this game boasts the highest total of the weekend. Yes, you’ll want to draw from this game for your weekend DFS lineups. Luck may be the best value at QB given that the Chiefs are such a fantasy-friendly defense, while no one has been able to stop the most expensive QB option, Mahomes.
The matchups also favor Marlon Mack (Chiefs allow the third-most fantasy points to running backs) and Eric Ebron (KC allows the second-most fantasy points to TE). T.Y. Hilton should be closer to 100 percent, while Dontrelle Inman is likely to make the bargain article again this week. Indy players will be chalky, but you can’t argue against them in this shootout.
Travis Kelce should also be a highly owned player this weekend, but people are afraid of Tyreek Hill’s volatility and high salary. He’s a nice Michael Thomas or Hilton pivot with plenty of cheaper WR options available too. Someone could get a big payoff by choosing correctly between Spencer Ware (assuming full health) and Damien Williams. Personally, I think Williams is the guy – he showed a lot more versatility and upside than Ware when Ware took over for Kareem Hunt – and he’s cheaper on FD.
Getting cheap pieces of huge games can pay off. Down the stretch of the regular season, Demarcus Robinson was quietly productive. His target volume ranged quite a bit, but he was clearly the number two for the last four weeks. If Sammy Watkins is limited or out, he could be a sneaky salary-saver.
Dallas at LA Rams, Total 49.5
The Saturday night special should also be a fun game. The Rams high-flying offense meets the stout Dallas defense. I think that defense keeps this one a lower scoring and closer game than the spread indicates. Dallas ranks in the bottom 10 in fantasy points allowed to QB, RB, and WR. Needless to say, Jared Goff won’t be a top priority for me, especially on DK where I think others are more likely to hit the 300-yard bonus.
I do expect a bounce back from Robert Woods, and as I often recommended this season when discussing the Rams, rotating Woods, Brandin Cooks and Josh Reynolds into your GPP lineups is a good idea given the Rams’ team total. There’s a decent chance Todd Gurley won’t be 100 percent this weekend, and the Rams have said they’ll continue to feature C.J. Anderson as well. That, along with Gurley’s price, makes me want to avoid the Rams RB situation altogether.
I’m happy the Cowboys get the Rams, because they are a defense that can be passed and run on. Dak Prescott shapes up to be the cheapest QB on DK after putting together a winning performance in the Wild Card win over Seattle. Like last week, he’s going to make it into tournament lineups for me, and also like last week, I’ll be pairing him with Ezekiel Elliott rather than any of his receivers. Elliott should be worth the price and has the best floor/ceiling outlook of all RBs this week. Michael Gallup, a favorite of mine, caught a post-season touchdown, while Amari Cooper quietly caught seven of nine targets for over 100 receiving yards vs. Seattle. A similar outcome is certainly possible, but you know Cooper is too volatile to trust in cash games.
LA Chargers at New England, Total 47
New England’s home playoff record is simply stellar (18-3) over the last 15 years. They’ll be well-rested and well-schooled in the ways of the Chargers, we can be sure of that. Tom Brady didn’t have a “Tom-Brady-Great” season from a fantasy perspective, but he managed to lead the Patriots to some quality offensive marks: the fourth-highest points per game, eighth-most passing yards, and fifth-most rushing yards. The Chargers are tough to pass on, and the Patriots’ recent games have been coming in under the point totals, so Brady is a hard-sell for me given the alternatives. The Chargers’ defense ranked eighth in fewest points per game allowed and gave up the sixth-fewest fantasy points to opposing QBs.
James White will likely be the most popular Patriots player this weekend, thanks to his versatility. I like him in any format. Ditto for Julian Edelman, though PPR is a better scoring format for him. Rob Gronkowski is a real wild card. It’s hard to remember a playoff slate that didn’t have him as the most expensive option and both sites have him fourth this year. I think that’s correct, too, but you’ll want exposure to Gronk in at least one tournament lineup. I do, anyway. There could easily be two touchdowns with his name on them by the end of the day after opponents have been lulled into ignoring him.
I felt good about LA in Baltimore, but despite the on-paper easier matchups this week, I know that Bill Belichick and company will be scheming ever harder to take away the Chargers’ edge. New England finished the regular season ranking in the bottom of the league in fantasy points allowed to running backs and wide receivers, and was pretty much league average vs. QBs.
Philip Rivers can do more than he did in Baltimore, but I think the Chargers are likely to favor a conservative, mistake-free, ball-control game plan again in New England. He’s rightly priced for that expectation, and while he offers a 10-fantasy point floor with upside, Rivers is probably my least favorite option this week.
Melvin Gordon is expected to be A-OK for Sunday, and figures to split the running back duties with Austin Ekeler again. Gordon is the superior DFS option, but hasn’t been targeted much over the last few games. Though the Chargers would like to run the ball all day, I expect that game flow is going to dictate a different reality. Bottom line: I prefer a Mack/Elliott/White backfield over Gordon (or Gurley).
Will New England take away Gordon or Keenan Allen? The good news for Rivers and the Chargers is that there are plenty of passing options on this team. Deep threat Mike Williams, possession guy Antonio Gates, perhaps even the return of Hunter Henry to take some attention in the middle of the field. Allen and M. Williams are the only two I’m considering in what should be a higher volume game than Wild Card week.
Philadelphia at New Orleans, Total 51
Notice I haven’t mentioned defense yet. While there were a few options last week (including my bargain bin favorite Chargers), I’d frankly rather skip it this weekend. The Chargers are a possibility again if you agree that this will be a lower scoring game and think they can get to Brady a few times. The Chiefs are better at home, but the total really scares me (as do their seasonal numbers). It leaves me leaning toward the Saints, the biggest favorites of the weekend. The Eagles have surprised us before, but they’re the easiest to pick on here.
The Saints allow the fourth-fewest fantasy points to opposing running backs and second-fewest rushing yards per game. That, in combination with the crowded, but ineffective Philly backfield, suggests that Nick Foles will be passing a lot. Interceptions and sacks are the key to D/ST fantasy points. Moreover, the Saints held the (Carson Wentz-led) Eagles to just seven points in Week 10.
On the offensive side of the ball, Drew Brees should thrive. Philly funnels opponents to a pass-heavy scheme with their strong run defense (seventh-fewest rushing yards per game, third-most passing yards per game allowed). He and his teammates are rested, at home, and ready to make a Superbowl run. It’s impossible to like your roster with Brees, Michael Thomas and Alvin Kamara, so I’m skipping Kamara this time. I’m fine with you using him alongside a cheaper QB/WR pair though! Thomas has an amazing 85 percent catch rate this season, and Philadelphia gives up the third-most fantasy points to wide receivers. There are too many mouths to feed after Thomas for me to feel confident in any of Ted Ginn, Tre’Quan Smith or Keith Kirkwood, much less one of the tight ends. I expect Brees to spread it around, but think you can only count on Thomas.
If you’re settling for the Saints D/ST, ignore this part. If you go with LA or New England, or punt completely with something like the Colts or Cowboys, read on. The Saints are a fantastic passing matchup. They gave up the second most fantasy points to QBs and the most to WR this season. The fact that they boast a great run defense doesn’t really matter for our purposes because Philadelphia lacks a dominant fantasy running back. I used Darren Sproles a little bit last week, but that won’t be necessary for the Divisional Round.
Alshon Jeffrey is definitely Foles’ favorite target, along with Zach Ertz. They should succeed this week and make a nice contrarian (and cheap) stack with Foles. Golden Tate and Nelson Agholor are both tournament-worthy value plays in this matchup as they could both score and are playing a high percentage of snaps. Dallas Goedert made the bargain column last week and caught a touchdown for me, but things should be much more straightforward in New Orleans than in Chicago. I still think he could be involved, but Foles should have an easier time getting the ball to his primary guys. Fade Goedert this week.