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Michael Thomas
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Daily Games

Starting Points Wild Card Round

by Renee Miller
Updated On: January 1, 2020, 2:07 am ET

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. All betting lines are courtesy of Westgate Sportsbook. 

 

The high scoring games: NFC

Minnesota at New Orleans, Total 48.5

Saints -8

Let’s just lay out some facts to start. The Saints were the third-highest scoring team of 2019, ranking seventh in passing yards and 16th in rushing yards. They turned the ball over only eight times all season…the fewest by a wide margin. Their defense was hot and cold, overall allowing the fourth-fewest rushing yards per game, but being in the top third of the league in passing yards allowed. They were able to sack opponents at a high rate – 3.2 sacks per game – and tied for 10th in the league in takeaways.

The Vikings ranked eighth in points per game, getting it done mostly on the ground as they were sixth in rushing yards but only 23rd in passing yards. Their defense allowed the fifth-fewest points per game, being pretty balanced against the run and the pass (13th and 15th in yards allowed, respectively). They ranked fourth in takeaways and averaged 3.0 sacks per game.

From a fantasy perspective, New Orleans was a fairly friendly matchup for quarterbacks (12th-most fantasy points allowed) and wide receivers (sixth-most), but were the sixth-toughest matchup for fantasy running backs. That doesn’t exactly play to Minnesota’s strength – Dalvin Cook – but I’m not shying away from Cook given the usage he typically enjoys. Stefon Diggs could be a popular play given the favorable matchup, but Adam Thielen still worries me. I know he’s been getting healthy for this, but he still could be out of sync with Kirk Cousins. Thielen’s a tournament play only for me. As for Cousins, no thank you. On both sites, he’s more expensive than Tom Brady, but has one of the lowest implied team totals and enters the week coming off three bad games and a Week 17 absence. I don’t see an upset happening here. 

Minnesota has also been a favorable wide receiver matchup, if there was any doubt that Michael Thomas was the top WR play on this week’s slate. He’s obviously expensive, but the safest bet of any receiver by a wide margin. Ditto for Drew Brees, especially on the Sunday-only slate. The Saints have the highest team total by far, which as you know is a good correlate of QB fantasy performance. Alvin Kamara has scored two touchdowns in the last two games, but his usage has actually been down a little bit. I expect Minnesota to have their hands full as this offense is as hot as anyone or hotter, so Kamara is a reasonable play this week. However, unlike Week 17, I’m prioritizing fitting in Thomas this week over Kamara. If you’re looking for cheap upside, Tre’Quan Smith or Irv Smith Jr. are long shot options. On the one hand, I like them for the game environment, but on the other, neither are getting much opportunity and I’ll probably hunt for value elsewhere this week.

 

Seattle at Philadelphia, Total 45.5

Seahawks -1.5

It feels wrong that the Eagles are hosting this game, given the teams’ records, but as you can see by the spread, oddsmakers are taking this Philly team seriously. The Eagles ranked 12th in points per game this season, 11th in both passing and rushing yards per game. They have the dubious distinction of turning the ball over more than any other team in the Wild Card Round (12th-most turnovers in the league). The Eagles’ defense allowed the 15th-most points per game, being far more generous in the pass game (19th-fewest yards allowed) than the run game (third-fewest yards allowed). 

The Seahawks ranked ninth in points per game this season, rushing for the fourth-most yards in the league, while ranking 14th in passing yards in what was an uneven season for Russell Wilson and his receivers. Wilson was sacked an average of three times per game. The Seattle defense is actually the most generous of any in this round of the playoffs, allowing opponents the 11th-most points per game. They were about equally easy to throw on (sixth-most passing yards allowed) and run on (11th-most rushing yards allowed). However, they were opportunistic, with the third-most takeaways in the league. 

Wilson is DraftKings’ most expensive QB, and I’m not sure I agree with that. I get that the Eagles are a more favorable pass defense, but I’ll take my shots on them with Tyler Lockett and/or D.K. Metcalf, who enjoy the fourth-best WR matchup. Wilson hasn’t been as good on the road as he has at home, and when he played in Philadelphia earlier this year, it was one of his worst games (200 yards, 1 TD, 1 INT, 1FL). I’m not saying he’ll be that bad, but it is a warning sign. Lockett and Metcalf both caught touchdowns in Week 17, and although his stat line didn’t show it, Jacob Hollister was heavily involved with eight targets. Both are very reasonable WR options this week, and Hollister is a nice alternative GPP TE play. 

It was fun to see Marshawn Lynch on the field, going over the top to score, but on the whole, it was pretty obvious that Travis Homer was the better back. I’m sure Seattle will continue to mix it up against this stout Philly run defense, but I think Homer has the better chance at succeeding as they get him in space more than Lynch. 

The Eagles might get Zach Ertz and Nelson Agholor back, which will be nice, because I don’t think they’ll be able to rely on their defense to win this week. Dallas Goedert and Greg Ward both did well in Week 17’s must-win game, with Goedert commanding 10 targets, but neither is looking like an elite fantasy option. Seattle is behind only Arizona in fantasy points allowed to TEs, so whomever plays is the top TE in my lineups this weekend. To finish up on the passing game, I’m going to fade the Eagles receivers, and I don’t want to rely on Carson Wentz here, especially on FanDuel, where Wilson is the same price. He’s steady, but he’s steady in a range – 18-19 fantasy points – that I think others will surpass. 

The Eagles relied very heavily on Boston Scott in Week 17, and he delivered big time. While Seattle isn’t as good of a matchup as New York, Scott would be a nice mid-range option if Miles Sanders isn’t 100 percent. If Sanders is healthy, however, I think it’ll be hard to trust either guy. One that that seems clear is that Jordan Howard is the odd man out. Given that Scott is great at the goal line and can function well in the receiving game, I think he’s the safest Eagles back right now if you must have one. 

 

The low scoring games: AFC

Buffalo at Houston, Total 42.5

Texans -2.5

Buffalo and Houston weren’t too different offensively. They ranked 23rd and 14th in points per game, but both were in the Top 10 in rushing yards and bottom half of the league in passing yards. The biggest difference was in defense, where Buffalo was No. 2 in points allowed, fourth in shutting down the pass game, and allowed the 10th-fewest rushing yards. Buffalo tied with New Orleans and others with the 10th-most takeaways this season, and wasn’t a good fantasy matchup for any position. 

Houston was up and down all season, offensively, though they consistently ranked high in sacks taken (3.1 sacks taken per game) and had a median number of turnovers. Unlike Buffalo, Houston’s defense ranks in the top of the league in fantasy points allowed to QB (second-most), RB (sixth-most), WR (12th-most), and TE (10th-most). They ranked 29th in passing yards allowed and 25th in rushing yards allowed. 

Together, all this points to a better Bills game for DFS than this line reflects. Josh Allen is fairly priced, as are all his surrounding cast. Devin Singletary should be fully unleashed, Cole Beasley and John Brown are cheap but high volume WR targets in this friendly environment. Allen isn’t going to get you the 300-passing yard bonus on DraftKings, but he has the best chance to rush in a touchdown or two. I love him on FanDuel. I will definitely be making a Bills stack, but sprinkling in Singletary, Beasley and Brown alone as well. 

Deshaun Watson has as much upside as any QB on the slate, it’s just a question of whether we’ll see it against this defense. He’s been very uneven with fantasy games of 45 or 6 points. It didn’t always depend on matchups either, as he was excellent against New England and Denver (though the ‘6’ was against Baltimore) but awful against Tampa Bay. He’s going to be in a tournament lineup or two for me, but the floor is too scary for cash games with Brees, Tom Brady or Allen available. Any Watson lineup is going to have DeAndre Hopkins right there with him, fantasy’s fifth-best PPR receiver. They will fly or die together. People might consider Houston’s defense, because defense isn’t super easy to figure out this week, but as noted above, I really like the Bills to compete and win this game. My D/ST is New Orleans.

 

Tennessee at New England, Total 43.5

Patriots -4.5

The Saturday night special features what figures to be a pissed-off Patriots team that had no intention of playing this game. No doubt resenting the epic loss to the Dolphins that put them here, I’m a bit on the fence about which way to spin the narrative: Anger that will bring the full force of offensive and defensive talent to squash the Titans by 40 points or Anger that will bring pettiness, distractedness and stupid mistakes that could lead to a second consecutive loss. 

I honestly think that Week 17 loss could factor into the Pats mentality this week, but overall they are the second-highest scoring team in the league, allowing the fewest points to opponents. Brady ranked eighth in passing yards per game, didn’t turn the ball over much, and didn’t take a ton of sacks. The New England defense was stellar in the pass game (second-fewest passing yards allowed) and run game (sixth-fewest rushing yards), boasted the second-most takeaways and sacked opposing QBs an average of 2.9 times per game. 

We can’t forget that none of that mattered last week as Miami ran and threw on them so let’s look at the Titans. Tennessee just got Derrick Henry the individual rushing record for the season, and in fact the Titans ranked third in rushing yards this season. Henry scored 16 rushing touchdowns plus two receiving; just one short of Christian McCaffrey’s and Aaron Jones’ 19 total touchdowns. Ryan Tannehill is arguably the guy who made this turnaround possible, as he led the Titans to a 7-3 record to close out the season. His 22 TD:6 INT ratio is one of the best in the league, and he is capable of the 300-yard game. However, he hasn’t been as good on the road as he is at home, and he hasn’t really faced any stout passing defenses like NE. 

A.J. Brown has been the best fantasy WR in the league over the past four games. Yes, better than Michael Thomas (half-PPR scoring). He is the third-highest priced WR and looks pretty damn unstoppable to me. If you can afford him, I think he’ll find a way to make a big play or two this weekend. Henry and Brown is where it ends for me…Tannehill is the lowest priority and a tournament play at best. 

Coming back to the Patriots, Tennessee is the better passing matchup (ninth-most passing yards allowed), and Brady is the cheapest QB on the slate. Despite having loads of talent in the backfield, New England rarely chose to utilize Sony Michel or Rex Burkhead to their fullest potential, never even mind the hot offseason rookie, Damien Harris. James White and Julian Edelman were and are again the only guys Brady (and I) trust. N’Keal Harry is the only Pats receiver to catch a touchdown pass in the last three games, though, so rolling with any of the surrounding cast is risky. While I like Brady’s cheap price and the Titans’ friendly pass defense, I’m not high on a Pats stack. Brady makes for a fine stand-alone play in cash games, perhaps with White or Edelman, depending on the injury report on him and his shoulder this week. The New England D/ST has rarely let us down this season, but they’re a little pricey. I’m not sacrificing a skill position to fit them in.