Happy Wild Card weekend!
What follows are my thoughts and analysis on pretty much every skill-position player that will be on the field for this weekend's four-game slate of action. This includes paths to success/failure for each QB, the most-important split for every backfield, WR/CB matchups as well as top DFS picks at TE and on defense.
Be sure to check out our Rotoworld DFS Toolkit for specific player projections as well as the ability to create a multitude of lineups both manually and automatically using our lineup builder.
The following price tags refer to DraftKings unless otherwise noted.
Russell Wilson ($6,800)
Path to success: The Seahawks recognize that throwing the ball against this iffy (to be nice) secondary is their easiest way to consistently put up points. Only Matthew Stafford (19.6%) threw a higher percentage of his targets at least 20 yards downfield than Wilson (16.5%) this season (PFF). Wilson's 119.2 QB rating on these throws ranks No. 4 among 36 qualified signal callers ... but the Seahawks ran the ball more than anyone other than the Ravens and 49ers in Weeks 1-17.
Potential failure: The beastly Philadelphia pass rush causes plenty of problems for the Seahawks' underwhelming and banged-up offensive line. This was the case in Week 12 when they sacked Wilson on six separate occasions.
Verdict: The Eagles allowed 17 or fewer points in seven of their final nine games. Still, most of this success came with a fully healthy secondary, something that won't be afforded this week with CBs Sidney Jones (back), Avonte Maddox (abdomen), Jalen Mills (ankle) and Ronald Darby (hip, IR) each all kinds of banged up. Seattle managed to get the W by only attempting 25 passes against the Eagles in their first matchup this season, but a more pass-happy approach this time around makes sense considering the injuries. Wilson is a solid contrarian option in tournaments considering the likelihood that our next QB winds up being the slate's chalkiest signal caller.
Be sure to monitor our Wild Card Injury Dashboard for daily practice participation along with estimated and official game statuses for every injured player.
Drew Brees ($6,600)
Path to success: Brees and company expose this porous group of corners. None of the Vikings CBs rank inside of PFF's top-50 corners in yards allowed per coverage snap. Only nine teams had at least four CBs graded outside of PFF's top-50 corners this season. The Texans (5), Eagles (5) and Vikings (4) are the only playoff teams to appear on that list.
Potential failure: The Vikings' formidable pass rush makes Brees uncomfortable in the pocket and forces this sneaky not-so-explosive offense to continuously attempt to put together long drives in order to score points. Vikings DEs Danielle Hunter (88) and Everson Griffen (66) are two of the playoff's top-six defenders in total pressures this season. Brees does deserve credit for having a minimal 0.18 drop in YPA when being pressured vs. when operating from a clean pocket.
Verdict: Brees has thrown for at least three touchdowns in seven of his 10 non-injury shortened games this season. There isn't a safer bet to do so on this slate, making Brees the QB to pay up for in cash games. Still, the Saints boast mediocre marks in combined explosive pass and run play rates. An improvement in creating big plays could help give this offense some wiggle room, because otherwise this passing game will need to operate to the highest of their capabilities against the league's No. 6 ranked defense in lowest explosive pass play rate allowed.
Check out my Wild Card Mismatch Manifesto for more matchup-specific stats and analysis for all four of this weekend's games.
Josh Allen ($6,500)
Path to success: Allen gets going on the ground against the league's seventh-worst defense in rush yards allowed to opposing QBs. Additionally, the Bills' high-octane passing attack gels against the Texans' mediocre secondary. Allen was the fantasy QB6 this season, but only had two games with at least 25 fantasy points after having four-such games in 2018. The Texans Defense (No. 26 in DVOA) is easily the worst overall defense remaining in the playoffs.
Potential failure: The Texans take advantage of Allen's token 2-3 terrible decisions per game and manage to keep the ball away from the Bills Offense with a steady dose of Carlos Hyde as well as third-down magic from Deshaun Watson. This secondary isn't a unit to fear, although Allen has never reached 275 passing yards in a game and has finished with fewer than 250 in all but four of his 27 career starts. Allen's rocket launcher for an arm hasn't been quite as great when throwing downfield as some might think. Only Dwayne Haskins (7.2 YPA on deep passes), Kyle Allen (7.8) and Mason Rudolph (8.4) averaged fewer yards per attempt on throws downfield than Allen (8.7) this season (PFF).
Verdict: Allen offers a higher rushing floor than pretty much anybody other than Lamar Jackson at the QB position. He's essentially the offense's goal-line back, as Allen (11) has easily out paced Devin Singletary (3) on rush attempts inside the 10-yard line this season. John Brown and Cole Beasley are plenty capable of winning their one-on-one battles. Allen is my favorite QB play of the week in GPP formats, and playing him in cash isn't the craziest thing I've heard this year (gotta love New Years jokes).
Deshaun Watson ($6,400)
Path to success: One of the league's premiere sack-escape artists finds a way to extend plays and makes the Bills pay in a big way. Watson would certainly benefit from getting ace field-stretching WR Will Fuller (groin, game-time decision) back in the lineup. Overall, Watson has averaged 8.69 YPA and a 7.1% TD rate in 22 games with Fuller compared to 6.99 YPA and a 3.9% TD rate in 17 games without.
Potential failure: Fuller sits and stud Bills CB Tre'Davious White manages to shut down DeAndre Hopkins, rendering the Texans Offense to a sputtering mess. Per PlayerProfiler, White ranks among the league's top-five CBs in both passer rating allowed (No. 2) and fantasy points allowed per target (No. 4). Watson crumbles under consistent pressure and falls to 0-2 in the playoffs.
Verdict: It wouldn't be surprising if the Texans lean on Carlos Hyde against a Bills Defense that was better against the pass (No. 5 in DVOA) than the run (No. 18) this season. Note that defenses that are 'better' against the pass than the run tend to also be superior overall units compared to the opposite. The correlation between a defense's pass DVOA rank with overall DVOA rank (+0.88) and yards per play rank (+0.73) is much stronger than their run rank (+0.62 and +0.65). The Texans opened as three-point favorites, but that has since dropped to 2.5. Watson will need to carry his team to victory, as the Bills sure look a lot like the more complete team. There's always overall QB1 potential in this offense, particularly with Fuller healthy, but I'm inclined to roll with Brees in cash games and Allen as my primary tournament signal caller.
Ryan Tannehill ($6,300)
Path to success: Tannehill overcomes this brutal matchup with more pristine downfield passing. The artist known as TanneThrill has averaged a robust 14.7 yards per attempt on passes thrown 20-plus yards downfield this season, gaining 544 yards and tossing three touchdowns with zero interceptions on 37-such attempts.
Potential failure: The Patriots craft another brilliant defensive game plan that renders A.J. Brown and Corey Davis as non-factors. Tannehill struggles to produce the elite efficiency he's demonstrated this season and the offense is forced to rely on Derrick Henry more than ever.
Verdict: It's not impossible for QBs to produce vs. the Patriots; Lamar Jackson, Deshaun Watson, Ryan Fitzpatrick and Josh Allen all surpassed 20 fantasy points against this fearsome defense. Still, nobody else reached even 14 fantasy points in this spot. TanneThrill has made the most of his opportunities this season, but only Devlin Hodges, Marcus Mariota and Lamar Jackson averaged fewer pass attempts per start than Tannehill (28.6) among 42 QBs with at least 100 pass attempts. Sometimes taking calculated risks is essential to dominating a small slate, but there's little reason to get behind Tannehill this week other than for the sake of simply being contrarian.
Carson Wentz ($6,200)
Path to success: Wentz and perennially-underrated coach Doug Pederson form the perfect game plan to attack this underwhelming secondary. The Seahawks' DVOA rank against WR1s (No. 12), WR2s (No. 9), Other WR (No. 10), TEs (No. 17) and RBs (No. 12) indicates that the Eagles' two-and-sometimes-three TE heavy attack should be capable of causing problems in this matchup (Football Outsiders).
Potential failure: The Eagles continue to struggle to create big plays on offense. Their status as the league's No. 23 ranked offense in explosive pass-play rate makes them the worst offense in the Wild Card round when it comes to manufacturing chunk plays through the air. The Seahawks Defense hasn't exactly been a world-beating unit this season, but they held this offense to just nine points back in Week 12. Seattle is tentatively expected to welcome back difference-making talents S Quandre Diggs (ankle) and DE Jadeveon Clowney (core).
Verdict: The Seahawks-Eagles' matchup is the only matchup in the Wild Card round with a game total that has dropped since opening. Their 45-point total is still higher than Bills-Texans (43.5) and Titans-Patriots (44), but this spot shouldn't be confused with a likely shootout. The Eagles haven't scored more than 24 points on anybody other than the Giants, Redskins and Dolphins since Week 8. Getting any of RT Lane Johnson (ankle), RB Miles Sanders (ankle) or TE Zach Ertz (ribs) back in the lineup would be a major boost to Wentz's fantasy appeal.
Kirk Cousins ($6,100)
Path to success: The Vikings haven't asked Cousins to throw the ball too much this season. He had seven games with at least 40 pass attempts in 2018; he has zero in 2019. Still, the offense might need to lean on the passing game in this matchup to pull off the upset. The Saints have been much better against WR1s (No. 11 in DVOA), WR2s (No. 12) and TEs (No. 8) as opposed to Other WRs (No. 22) and RBs (No. 16). Something named Brandon Zylstra just racked up 96 yards against this Saints Defense less than a week ago. None of the Texans (28 points), Buccaneers (24), Falcons (26), Panthers (31) nor 49ers (48) had too much of a problem putting up points in New Orleans.
Potential failure: The Saints Defense ranked second in NFL in pressures per dropback this season (PFF). Cousins has ranked among the league's top-10 most-pressured QBs in each of the past two seasons. This is partially just a side effect of both Cousins' playing style as well as this scheme: Nobody averaged a longer time between getting the snap and throwing the ball than Cousins (2.83 seconds) this season (PFF). Either way, inability to get Dalvin Cook going against a defense that hasn't allowed a 100-yard rusher, combined with consistent duress from all angles, could render this up-and-down offense as a non-factor in this hostile road matchup.
Verdict: I'm more willing to take a chance on Cousins than anybody priced beneath Allen. The Vikings' downfield oriented passing attack has created big plays for Stefon Diggs all season, and the Saints' secondary is far from 100% at the moment. Each of S Vonn Bell (knee), S Marcus Williams (groin) and CB Eli Apple (ankle) were out in Week 17. Cook has been the engine of this offense all season, but Cousins will be needed more than ever to help carry the offense in the week's most-likely back-and-forth slugfest.
Tom Brady ($5,800)
Path to success: The Patriots were just waiting until the playoffs to resume their dominance on the offensive side of the ball. Even a returning Adoree' Jackson (foot) doesn't help this mediocre group of corners deal with a perfect game plan from OC Josh McDaniels, and Brady manages to consistently and efficiently shred this defense while getting everyone involved. The Titans joined the Chiefs and Colts as the league's only defenses that allowed triple-digit receptions to opposing RBs this season, so the Patriots' plethora of capable receiving backs could see plenty of volume in the passing game come Saturday night.
Potential failure: The Titans figure out a way to make Brady uncomfortable. Obviously every QB is worse when under pressure compared to when they have time to throw. With that said: The GOAT joins Kyle Allen, Joe Flacco, Sam Darnold, Mitchell Trubisky and (if you aren't done throwing up yet) Mason Rudolph as the only other QBs averaging fewer than five yards per pressured attempt this season.
Verdict: Julian Edelman (knee, shoulder) said he's feeling better than he has in weeks. Still, it's troubling that we're in the playoffs and this offense *still* doesn't have a consistent and defined No. 2 pass-game option. One of N'Keal Harry, Mohamed Sanu and/or Phillip Dorsett could have to pick up the slack against a Titans Defense that was much better against the run (No. 10 in DVOA) than the pass (No. 21) during the regular season. The good news is the Titans ranked just 27th in pressures per dropback this season, so Brady shouldn't be under too much fire throughout the evening. Perhaps the Patriots turn back into an efficient machine on offense now that winter is here, but I see no reason to gamble on Brady when Cousins is just a bit more expensive and in a much more fantasy-friendly environment.
- RB1: Singletary (71 % snap rate, 17.6 opportunities per game)
- RB2: Gore (28%, 9)
Note that Singletary played 52-of-54 snaps (96%) against the Patriots in Week 16. There's a decent chance that Gore barely sees the field this week, particularly if the Bills aren't able to play with a lead. T.J. Yeldon has been a healthy scratch all season except for when Singletary was injured as well as in the Bills' meaningless Week 17 contest.
The Bills have fed their talented rookie RB at least 15 touches in six consecutive games. The problem is that the pass-game usage has been inconsistent, and Allen's aforementioned status as the league's biggest vulture other than Taysom Hill makes it tough to expect much from Singletary in the scoring department.
It's impossible to trust Gore in full point-per-reception formats like DraftKings. I'm inclined to fade a potentially-chalky Singletary this week due to his demonstrated lack of a ceiling; Gore (2) nearly had as many games with more than 15 PPR than Singletary (3) this season despite their massive difference in snaps and touches alike.
Obviously the Texans would receive a boost if J.J. Watt (torn pec, IR) manages to return to action this week. Keep an eye on our industry-leading News Feed for updates on the five-time first team All-Pro.
- RB1: Hyde (50% snap rate, 16.3 opportunities per game)
- RB2: Johnson (48%, 9.1)
Offenses have usually had the most success against the Bills on the ground. The likes of Nick Chubb (20-116-0), Adrian Peterson (18-108-0), Saquon Barkley (18-107-1), Jordan Howard (23-96-1), Sony Michel (21-96-0, 17-63-0), Derrick Henry (20-78-1), Miles Sanders (3-74-1) and Ezekiel Elliott (12-71-0) were all able to find some rather wide running lanes against this mediocre rush defense. The Bills rank 12th in adjusted line yards per rush and 26th in open field yards per carry, meaning their linebackers and safeties have struggled to provide enough help in their attempt to stop opposing RBs (Football Outsiders).
Hyde is anyone's idea of a game-script dependent back. We'll see plenty of Johnson if the Texans fall behind, although the over-qualified scat back ultimately had 10 or fewer touches in all but three games this season.
Sony Michel ($4,600) is the only cheaper RB that has an easier pathway to 20-plus touches than Hyde ($5,100). Both backs are home, but Hyde figures to carry reduced ownership in a better offense with a superior matchup in the trenches. The potential for this game to get away from the Texans makes Hyde a risky cash-game play, but I absolutely love him in tournaments this week. No defense has missed more total tackles than the Bills this season (PFF).
- RB1: Henry (76% snap rate, 32 opportunities)
- RB2: Dion Lewis (18%, 1)
Lewis has soaked up more snaps than Henry's fantasy investors would prefer all season. Still, the Titans have kept the touches heavily in Henry's favor, as their offense has continuously flowed through their 6-foot-3 and 247-pound monster.
Henry has historically only gotten better as the season has gone on:
- September (3.87 yards per carry)
- October (3.87)
- November (5.87)
- December (5.38)
- January (4.98)
Who can blame any defender for not being all that enthusiastic about tackling this dude. There have only been four instances of a RB averaging over four yards after contact per attempt in a season since 2010 (PFF, minimum 100 carries). Henry in 2018 and 2019 is responsible for two of them.
Each of Joe Mixon (25-136-0), Nick Chubb (20-131-1), Mark Ingram (15-115-0) and Frank Gore (17-109-0) managed to clear 100 rushing yards against this defense. The idea that Belichick always takes away the opponent's No. 1 offensive weapon isn't exactly a myth, but it's also a relatively basic way of describing the overwhelming success that his defense have had over the years. Henry's recent play and workhorse role makes him deserving of the most-expensive salary of any RB on the slate, although it's fair to project Alvin Kamara and potentially Dalvin Cook for more PPR thanks to their larger pass-game roles.
- RB1: Michel (33% snap rate, 15.4 opportunities per game)
- RB2: White (47%, 10.4)
- RB3: Burkhead (23%, 6.8)
- RB4: Bolden (4%, 0.3)
Michel has 19, 21 and 18 carries over the past three weeks and averaged over 4.1 yards per carry in each contest. He doesn't really have a pass-game role with Burkhead active, but it's tough to complain about that sort of volume and some newfound efficiency. Just because it's been a brutal season for the Patriots Offense in general doesn't mean that we should scoff at a cheap RB as a home favorite with a lofty volume ceiling.
White somehow has three playoff games with at least 16 targets, but he finished with fewer than eight pass-game opportunities in his other eight career games in January and February. He's a bit more of a boom-or-bust option than his status as a pass-down RB would indicate. There's basically no rushing floor for White, although the Titans allowed nine separate backs to catch at least five passes this season. The only problem here is the salary. It's just tough to argue that White ($5,700) should be so much more expensive than Michel ($4,600) or Burkhead ($4,500).
I'm inclined to ride with Michel in cash and tournament lineups alike while fading White in favor of Burkhead. White has a larger target projection than Burkhead, but the potential for the latter RB to fall into the end zone once or twice from the goal line gives him a much higher ceiling, particularly when we consider the price tags and likelihood that the Patriots' "No. 3" RB doesn't garner too high of ownership.
- RB1: Cook (70% snap rate, 24.4 opportunities per game)
- RB2: Mattison (20%, 7.9)
- RB3: Ameer Abdullah (8%, 1.4)
The Saints have made life difficult on the ground this season against pretty much everyone. Even the likes of Christian McCaffrey (22-64-1, 9-26-1), Leonard Fournette (20-72-0), Ezekiel Elliott (18-35-1), Todd Gurley (16-63-1) and Chris Carson (15-52-0) just couldn't consistently pick up good yardage on the ground despite plenty of chances to do so. Cook is a special player, but Carlos Hyde's 83 rushing yards back in Week 1 remain the most the Saints have given up to any individual all season.
You could make an argument that Cook is the league's most-exciting and talented RB with the ball in his hands.
Still, we have essentially zero idea how close he is to full health, and Mattison is also expected to be active.
Alvin Kamara ($7,400) is easily my preferred expensive RB ahead of Cook ($7,800) and Derrick Henry ($8,200) for cash games. Cook is too good with too large of a projected workload to be fully faded in tournaments, but I lean towards rostering this Vikings' passing attack as opposed to messing with the Saints' beastly front seven.
- RB1: Kamara (66% snap rate, 17.9 opportunities per game)
- RB2: Murray (36%, 10.1)
Murray has a #RevengeGame this week, but the Saints' backfield has largely been the Kamara show all season. Overall, he played at least 59% of the offense's snaps in Weeks 1-16 before being pulled early during the Saints' 42-10 blowout victory over the Panthers last Sunday.
I'd rather devote salary to Hyde ($5,100) than Murray ($5,000), but the potential for 10-15 touches in the week's highest-projected matchup shouldn't be ignored. Murray is a contrarian-GPP option that just needs to fall into the end zone once to swing some tournaments.
Kamara is the Saints' No. 2 receiver and locked in as the slate's most fantasy-friendly player. Only Thomas (22 PPR) has a higher projection than Kamara (20) in the Rotoworld DFS Toolkit.
- RB1: Travis Homer (67% snap rate, 15 opportunities)
- RB2: Marshawn Lynch (31%, 12)
- RB3: Robert Turbin (0%, 0)
The Eagles were the league's No. 3 defense in fewest adjusted line yards per rush. They've been difficult to run on all season and are now matched up against the Seahawks' banged-up offensive line and backfield.
Homer ($5,300) is easily the better value this week ahead of Lynch ($5,200) for his superior pass-catching prowess alone. It's tough to see the Seahawks #EstablishingTheRun with much success, but Homer is the favorite for the most touches in this ever-evolving backfield.
- RB1: Boston Scott (74% snap rate, 25 opportunities)
- RB2: Sanders (31%, 14)
- RB3: Howard (1%, 0)
Sanders suffered a low-grade lower ankle sprain in Week 17, but reportedly plans to play despite missing back-to-back practices to start the week. Scott will obviously have a large role either way after racking up 138 total yards and three touchdowns last week. It remains to be seen if the team intends on increasing Howard's role after playing him on just one snap in his return.
We'll need to monitor this situation right up until game time. Still, the current uncertainty could make Scott the crown jewel of this slate. He'll be heavily involved regardless and has the potential for a near every-down role if Sanders as well as Howard are ultimately non factors.