The playoffs are finally here, which leaves ample opportunity to squeeze in everything from fantasy football to tournament pools and betting props. Fortunately, the Rotoworld crew has everything you need leave Conference Championship weekend and the postseason with a win. This is an add-on of the previous betting pieces the team has cranked out through the week, including Renee Miller’s Early Lines, Rich Hribar’s Conference Title Fantasy Rankings, Raymond Summerlin’s Conference Title Betting Preview, and Evan Silva’s award-winning Conference Championship Matchups Column.
As for me, I am here to shed some light on the most important injury situations facing fantasy players and bettors heading into the weekend. The sister resource to this column is the Rotoworld News Page, which will have every single inactive and all the late-breaking news up to kickoff and beyond. I also tweet last-minute lineup and betting thoughts at @notJDaigle.
Rams at Saints (-3) — Total 57 points
Key Injuries: The Saints have a few key injuries to discuss, perhaps none bigger than missing DT Sheldon Rankins (Achilles’, out) in the middle of their trenches. New Orleans’ sack rate has nearly been cut in half (9.1% all the way to 4.7%) without Rankins this season, potentially freeing Jared Goff to stay upright and face little to no pressure. Saints will also be without TE Ben Watson (appendicitis, out) and slot wideout Keith Kirkwood (calf, out). More on both below.
Betting/DFS Outlook: Kirkwood’s absence in particular is significant because it likely pushes Michael Thomas inside and away from standout corner Aqib Talib. It also locks Tre’Quan Smith onto the field in three-wide sets, as the rookie actually ran more routes (10) in the Divisional Round as New Orleans’ fourth-string wideout than both Tommylee Lewis (four run-blocking snaps) and Austin Carr (healthy-scratched) combined. Smith is a sneaky Conference Championship slate-breaker in DFS since he’s lined up on the right side of the field — where Marcus Peters has solely been aligned since Talib returned from injury in Week 13 — at a higher rate (44.6%) than Ted Ginn (37.8%) has in the two games they’ve played together since Week 16. Josh Hill and Dan Arnold, the latter who was healthy-scratched for the Divisional Round, are genuine DFS dart-throws in place of Watson. Hill did notably lead Saints tight ends in snaps (64%), routes (20), and targets (3) in the Divisional Round.
The Rams ultimately schemed a tremendously successful game plan last week and exploited the Cowboys’ recent inability to defend the run. Even without Rankins, though, the Saints have allowed a mere 3.76 YPC to opposing backfields. Goff will have to be exponentially sharp if Los Angeles has any chance of hanging around, and the West Coast’s own hasn’t proven he can be that on the road, especially without Cooper Kupp. As Evan Silva noted in his Conference Title Matchups column, Goff’s averaged 1.3 fewer yards per attempt in the last eight games he’s played sans Kupp. The Saints have the ability to build a lead even without a few of their key offensive players and advantageously force the Rams’ play-caller into make-or-break situations down the stretch. A two-score lead is in the range of final outcomes here.
Picks: Saints -3, Under 57
Patriots at Chiefs (-3) — Total 56.5 points
Key Injuries: It’s more about who is playing for the Chiefs rather than who’s not. Spencer Ware, for example, practiced in full for back-to-back sessions for the first time in over a month and was removed from Kansas City’s injury report on Thursday. Damien Williams, recently inked to a two-year extension, should still handle a bulk of the work seeing as how the Chiefs showed no fear in giving him five-week highs in touches (30), routes (27), and snaps (65, 75%) against the Colts.
Betting/DFS Outlook: If you can project the first 15 minutes of this game correctly, you’ll hit your bets while simultaneously moving to the top of DFS tourneys. Andy Reid and the Chiefs pride themselves in scoring early (as shown by their 18-to-6 first-quarter touchdown difference over their opponents this year), which would strip the Patriots’ offense down to a pass-only approach if that occurred. If the Patriots have their way, though, they would simply build a two-score lead in the first 17 minutes (as they did back in Week 6) via two-back sets and again dominate time of possession, limiting Kansas City’s offensive possessions. I’ll pick a side below for the sake of putting my foot down, but the number and price in this matchup is ultimately too close to (accurately) call one way or another. Bettors should ignore sides in this one and instead back efficient (and healthy!) offenses against less-than-efficient defenses in ‘Artic Blast’ 25-degree temps with little to no rain or wind.
Picks: Chiefs -3, Over 56.5
Last Week: 3-3