Welcome to the Fantasy Football Forecast! My goal with this weekly column is to get you actionable information as quickly as possible. If you’re a visual learner, this one’s for you. As always, hit me up on Twitter @HaydenWinks if you have questions.
Saints (27.0 projected points, -8 spread) vs. MIN
The Saints are projected for, by far, the most points of Wild Card weekend, which isn’t surprising given their recent lines with a healthy Drew Brees. He’s the highest floor quarterback on the slate with Michael Thomas clearly the best fantasy receiver of the year. The Vikings are in the bottom 20th percentile against fantasy receivers and have no definitive strength against the path. Slot WR Tre’Quan Smith and deep threat Ted Ginn are decent dart throws at home. The bigger storyline is Alvin Kamara, who finally has seen goal-line carries in recent weeks after a long stretch of not scoring. Only Dalvin Cook (and maybe Derrick Henry) should be ranked ahead of Kamara this weekend in positional rankings.
Patriots (24.0, -5.5) vs. TEN
The Patriots Offense has been very hit-and-miss this season with an aging Tom Brady struggling to get on the same page as his new and/or young receivers. It wouldn’t be much of a surprise to see the Patriots shed some of Brady’s pass attempts in favor of more rushes even with the Titans Defense grading better against the run per DVOA. Sony Michel, James White, and Rex Burkhead should all be involved with Michel taking most goal-line carries and White taking most passing-down work. When Brady is passing, it’ll be mostly to Julian Edelman, who has the best slot matchup of the weekend (you’ll see the full slot matchup rankings in a graph below). Edelman isn’t operating at full health but is easily in the top-five receivers on the slate. All other pass catchers are hard to trust, but rookie N’Keal Harry did lead the group in air yards in Week 17. He probably has more red zone equity than the other non-Edelman receivers, too.
Seahawks (23.5, -1.5) @ PHI
With the running back depth chart a total mess, the Seahawks should #LetRussCook this week, especially with the Eagles’ biggest weakness on defense being at corner. Russell Wilson and DK Metcalf/Tyler Lockett stacks make a lot of sense in DFS tournaments with Philly ranking in the bottom 10th percentile against fantasy receivers. Metcalf, in particular, should take advantage of the Eagles’ worst ranking of the weekend against passes traveling further than 13 air yards (full deep pass defense rankings are in a graph below). Tyler Lockett can also make a big play or two in this matchup, although Philly has been tough against players in the slot this season. At running back, it’ll be Marshawn Lynch in clear running situations and Travis Homer in for more passing downs. Homer has a safer floor, but Lynch has more goal-line equity. Neither are in good matchups per DVOA and other advanced metrics.
Texans (22, -2.5) vs. BUF
Deshaun Watson splits with and without Will Fuller are drastic, so Watson would be a decent fade in DFS tournaments if Fuller’s groin prevents him from playing. Fuller, however, is tentatively expected to play, although an in-game flare-up is always on the table. The deep threat will also be facing a Bills Defense that allowed, by far, the fewest PPR points on passes 13+ yards downfield. DeAndre Hopkins is in a tough matchup as well against CB Tre’Davious White, who was a primary reason why the Bills were a top-7th percentile team against fantasy receivers. Hopkins is a volume and talent-based WR1 but is in a tier at least one below Michael Thomas. Carlos Hyde continues to lead the backfield in opportunity and is in the best individual matchup on the team. The Bills are a below-average run defense per DVOA and other advanced metrics.
Eagles (22, +1.5) vs. SEA
Miles Sanders (ankle) is expected to push for a quick return despite not practicing Wednesday. If he plays and is deemed healthy, Sanders is an upside RB1/2 against a team that’s in the bottom 20th percentile in run defense DVOA. If Sanders is out, Boston Scott will take on most of Sanders’ role. The pass-catching depth chart is a total mess. It seems unlikely that Zach Ertz (kidney, ribs) and Nelson Agholor (knee) play this week, meaning Dallas Goedert and Greg Ward will be the top dogs for Carson Wentz, who is arguably playing some of his best football recently. The Seahawks are the 31st against fantasy tight ends, so Goedert is the TE1 overall this week if Ertz is indeed out, although Jared Cook isn’t far behind. TE Josh Perkins will also be a viable fantasy option.
Vikings (19.5, +7.5) @ NO
Dalvin Cook (shoulder) said he’s going to be at “full strength” and he’s practicing as if that’s the case. He’s my RB1 overall this weekend despite the perceived difficult on-paper matchup. Cook will get a ton of opportunity as always, and the Saints are missing multiple run defenders right now. Kirk Cousins hasn’t been much of a fantasy producer and the Vikings’ low 19.5-point team total isn’t the time to bet on that changing. Stefon Diggs and Adam Thielen are more fantasy viable than Cousins because the volume is concentrated to just them when they are healthy. Thielen should actually see a near full-time role for the first time in forever, which deems Kyle Rudolph 100% reliant on touchdowns. Of the two receivers, Thielen has a better matchup while playing in the slot, but Diggs has slightly more projected volume.
Bills (18.5, +2.5) @ HOU
The Texans arguably have the worst defense of the Wild Card round, but the Bills arguably have the worst offense and (real-life) quarterback. It’s an interesting matchup, one that should play with a relatively fast offensive pace, so I’m fine with Josh Allen as a fine QB1/2 play, especially against a bottom-10th percentile defense versus fantasy quarterbacks. John Brown and Cole Beasley both have nice matchups with Houston being vulnerable against deep passes and slot receivers this season. At running back, it’s Devin Singletary working well between the 20s, but the rookie doesn’t have a single carry inside-the-5 or inside-the-10 since Week 10. That, of course, is where touches are, by far, the most valuable for fantasy:
Titans (18.5, +5.5) @ NE
We must first start with the Patriots Defense. They are projected for the most quarterback pressures forced this week, and it’s not even close (pressure chart can be found below). Ryan Tannehill will have his hands full, but he’s seriously been a top-five real-life quarterback this season. Tannehill will need to run for a touchdown or have his playmakers (cough, cough A.J. Brown) make plays to pay in fantasy this weekend. Brown will go head-to-head with elite CB Stephon Gilmore, who has been the primary reason why the Pats are the No. 1 defense against fantasy receivers. Slot WR Tajae Sharpe and Corey Davis are also in tough matchups. Derrick Henry should get a healthy-dosage of work but faces the best RB defense on runs and receptions (full RB defense breakdown is below). Henry is a tier 2 fantasy option near Alvin Kamara solely based on talent and usage.
Chart Explainer: The teams projected to score the most points are on the right side, and the teams who run the most offensive plays per minute are at the top. The most fantasy-friendly teams will be up and to the right, while the ones to primarily avoid are on the bottom left. This is probably the most important chart in the column.
Friendly Fantasy Offenses: Saints, Patriots
Unfriendly Fantasy Offenses: Titans, Bills, Vikings
Chart Explainer: The offenses on the top are expected to be pressured the most. The offenses are in blue on the left, while the defenses they’re playing are in red on the right. Streaming fantasy defenses that are expected to generate pressure is smart.
Chart Explainer: The defenses on the top allow the most PPR points through the air (aka fantasy receiving production), while the ones on the bottom allow the fewest PPR points. The numbers inside the bars represent the defensive ranking for PPR points allowed on defense broken down by the depth of target. “Deep” (red) includes targets of at least 13 yards. “Underneath” (blue) includes targets between -2 and 12 yards because that’s the area where slot receivers do most of their damage.
Chart Explainer: The defenses on the top allow the most PPR points per game to players lined up in the slot (not just slot WRs to be clear). The players listed inside the bar chart are the ones who are expected to play in the slot against these defenses this week.
Chart Explainer: The defenses on the left allow the most PPR Points per Game to running backs. The numbers inside the bars represent the defensive ranking for PPR Points per Game allowed on defense broken down by receiving (red) and rushing (blue) production. Some teams are worse at defending one over the other but don’t overreact to these matchups.
Bad RB Matchups: Derrick Henry