Once again we're faced with a four game playoff slate, but the quality of players we're choosing from is significantly higher for the Divisional Round. If you made it through a wacky Wild Card weekend, in which my value RB No. 1 Dan Herron was the highest scoring fantasy player overall, and are back for more, value will be a bit tougher to come by this weekend. I'll be giving one value play at each position, then discussing the alternatives and my personal strategy for saving or spending at the position. I try to keep the value plays under $5500 using FanDuel pricing.
Editor's Note: Rotoworld's partner FanDuel is hosting a one-week $2 Million Fantasy Football league for the Divisional Round Weekend's games. It's only $25 to join and first prize is $200,000. Starts Saturday, January 10th at 4:35pm ET. Here's the link.
Cam Newton ($7700): He is the cheapest starting QB this week, coming in just behind Joe Flacco ($7800). Since returning from a minor fractured spine (post-car accident), Newton has managed to produce well with two rushing TD and 4 passing TD. His passing yardage is always up and down, but the fact that he is averaging 40 rushing yards a game hugely helps his fantasy point totals. The obvious knock on Newton this week is the fact that he plays Seattle in Seattle. Vegas has this as one of the lowest scoring games of the season with the Seahawks double digit favorites. That puts the Panthers team total in the 12-13 range, not where you want to be with your DFS QB. I think Cam Newton is an okay tournament play at this price because the Panthers have been playing above their image for weeks now (meaning I think it will be a closer and perhaps higher scoring game), he will be low owned, and he can rack up the fantasy points and TDs on the ground.
Advice: For cash games, my favorite QB of the week is Russell Wilson ($8200). Wilson also has the rushing ability to pad his volatile passing stats. For just $500 more than Newton, he gets a much more favorable matchup at home. The downside of Wilson is that his receiving corps is bad. No one has emerged in the absence of Percy Harvin to inspire anything close to the kind of trust that a Jordy Nelson, Antonio Brown, or Julio Jones give their QB. (Harvin was a weak facsimile of those guys anyway). Yet Wilson has found a way to be the 2nd most efficient passer in the league (0.61 fantasy points per drop back, per PFF) and one of the most consistent fantasy options all season long.
Shane Vereen ($5200): New England's backfield is pretty much all you'll find down here. LeGarrette Blount ($5700) and Jonas Gray ($5300) are both more expensive than Vereen, the consensus No. 1 Patriots back at season's start. Each player has one standout game for the Pats this year, scoring multiple TDs. In Vereen's case, it was against a tough Jets run defense back in October. For Blount, it was more recently in what should have been Vereen's second big game in Detroit Nov 23. Everyone remembers Gray's 4 TD game against Indianapolis. Both Gray and Blount are recovering from injuries. Blount's shoulder seems completely healed, while Gray remains questionable with a sprained ankle. Baltimore boasts the No. 1 rushing defense (per PFF) and allows the fewest fantasy points to RB, so using Vereen or any NE back goes against simple logic. The Ravens aren't as good against pass-catching backs, and as disappointing as Vereen has been, he somehow caught the 5th most passes by a RB (52) in 2014. I'm unfailingly a logical girl, and logic says Vereen is the best value back on the slate this week. Just know that Bill Belichick's logic and mine aren't always in sync...
Advice: This is a great week to pay up for RB in general. I'm buying Eddie Lacy 100% of the time, and CJ Anderson about 50% of slot 2. Vereen is in my lineups, and I'll take a stab or two with Dan Herron as well. I'm finding it nearly impossible to roster DeMarco Murray or Marshawn Lynch, but they're obviously the top plays at the position if you can work it salary wise, for example, by using Cam Newton at QB. Marshawn Lynch is getting very little press this week, and he could end up being under owned as people race to pay just a little more for Murray. I think they have a similarly high range of outcomes, and I actually prefer Lynch at home vs Carolina to Murray in GB.
Terrance Williams ($5800): In this price range, which is admittedly over my normal limit, you're hoping for touchdowns. If you compare the other available players priced in the $5000-5900 range (Donte Moncrief, Reggie Wayne, Jericho Cotchery, Wes Welker, Cole Beasley, Davonte Adams, and Doug Baldwin), not one has more than four receiving TDs in 2014. Terrance Williams has eight. Four have come in the Cowboys past three games. He's become a reliable option behind Dez Bryant in what is expected to be the highest scoring game of the week between two primarily offensive minded teams.
Advice: The options in this price range are all risky. Most are WR3 on their team, if not WR4. Reggie Wayne makes a better play in PPR formats, as he's seen the end zone only once all year. With both tight ends active, he and Moncrief are off my radar against Denver. Prior to being sidelined with a minor hamstring injury that kept him out of the season finale, Jermaine Kearse, arguably a WR2, was seeing an average of five targets a game, with a high of nine. He wasn't the most efficient pass catcher, with a horrible points per opportunity (PPO) of 0.23. Teammate Doug Baldwin ($5900), the lead receiver in Seattle, such as it is, managed only 0.33 PPO, reflecting the pass-second nature of the Seattle offense. Kearse is practicing fully and ready to play on Saturday. If I can't afford Williams, and am using Wilson, Kearse is my third WR on FD. One other option I want to mention is Kamar Aiken ($4800). He has 3 TD on 24 receptions and a 73% catch rate, putting him in the company of Calvin Johnson in terms of efficiency (0.48 PPO). The problem is he doesn't get many opportunities in the lean Ravens passing offense. The hope with Aiken is that the Patriots secondary, led by Darrelle Revis and Devin McCourty, makes things so tough for Steve Smith Sr. and Torrey Smith that Flacco has no choice but to look his way. He's a long shot GPP only play.
Dwayne Allen ($5000): Allen is the better TE in Indianapolis, it's that simple. He missed a significant amount of time this season, so his overall numbers aren't as good as Coby Fleener's ($5400). Despite Allen playing only 12 games to Fleener's 16, however, both guys have the same number of TDs (8). Fleener's targets dropped to two last week against the Bengals (four for Allen). I think you're paying less for a better product with Allen this week.
Advice: I am doing everything humanly possible to fit Rob Gronkowski into my lineups this weekend. If you think Brady has any value, he has it largely because of Gronk. He leads tight ends in every category there is, and gets the Ravens poor secondary at home. I'm willing to sacrifice at WR this weekend to make it happen. Cooper Helfet and Andrew Quarless are available at the minimum ($4500) if you really decide to punt the position, but I don't recommend it for the small savings it gets you compared to Allen.
Advice: I want Seattle in my lineups. That is doable, but at $5200 they are the most expensive option. Since this is a value column, let's see what else we can do. I'll always sacrifice defense before skill positions, so if Seattle doesn't work, I'm looking at two choices: Green Bay ($4700) and Dallas ($4500). I know, it's the highest scoring game between PFFs top two remaining offenses and neither defense is fundamentally sound. However, Green Bay is tied for 8th in the league for takeaways over 2014, and Dallas ranked 13th in giveaways, not a terrible formula for success. I also like to use defenses at home, especially in the playoffs.
Saving a couple hundred dollars more with Dallas is an even more contrarian play. On the road against the team tied with New England for the fewest giveaways? Crazy. Yet, Dallas is somehow 2nd in the league in takeaways, behind only Houston in that category. We know that Aaron Rodgers is less than 100% with the calf injury, that the game will be played on a fully frozen tundra, and that those two factors could collide to lead Rodgers, with reduced mobility and time, to make mistakes. I'm not saying it's likely, but I'd rather punt a defense with a rational chance at a decent day than use two third string receivers in my lineups.