For those of you that are trying to cram in every morsel of fantasy football that the 2018 season must offer, playoff pools and DFS for postseason games are here to fulfill our final fantasy needs. I’m going to take some space each week to rank the positions from the remaining teams as a guide to maximizing those final efforts.
The NFL is already an inherently volatile game weekly when we have 16 matchups to dissect, so when we cut the weekly player pool down to just four teams in two games, we’re inviting variance to run amuck. Because of that, I wouldn’t focus too much on the arbitrary player ranking as opposed to the analysis, but hey, we have to put these guys in some order.
In DFS games, we can swerve into that variance to a degree by maximizing player exposure to cover as many angles as clairvoyantly possible. I typically avoid cash games for the NFL Playoffs, but want to run out as many different tournament lineups as possible in multi-entry fields over trying to hit a bullseye in single entry contests. If you’re someone doing a playoff pool, that is much tougher to do. My best advice in those pools is to try and maximize player games as much as possible as suggested in our overall playoff rankings.
1. Patrick Mahomes (vs NE): The quarterback position is loaded this week and if either game this weekend is similar to what we got from each regular season matchup, then fantasy points will be flying around for everyone. Mahomes has scored at least 17 standard fantasy points in every game but one this season and posted a monster game when these teams met in Week 6 in New England with 352 passing yards and four touchdowns. New England’s pass defense was much better at home as well rather than on the road. On their home field, opposing passers completed 62.3 percent of their passes for 7.8 passing yards per attempt, averaging 286.1 passing yards and 20.6 fantasy points per game compared to completing 57.9 percent of their passes for 6.2 yards per attempt while averaging 244.7 passing yards and 15.4 fantasy points per game in New England. The one potential roadblock here of course is the weather. Expected to be below freezing at kickoff, this projects to be the coldest game that Mahomes has started this season. That said, last week's game with the Colts had higher winds and more percipitation than what is being forecasted for Sunday, so take that with a grain of salt. If you wanted to outright pivot to either quarterback in the NFC game, there wouldn’t be much pushback, but on an even, objective playing field, Mahomes is still the best fantasy player playing this weekend.
2. Drew Brees (vs LAR): The touchdown totals for Brees have dipped a touch to close the season as he’s thrown just five touchdowns over his past five games with no more than two in any game, But we always love playing Brees at home and this game comes with no weather restrictions at all, which is something that could aid the NFC game being the highest-scoring game of the two this weekend. Brees averaged 326.1 passing yards per game at home this season and came out and threw for 301 yards last weekend against the Eagles. When these teams played in Week 9, Brees torched the Rams secondary, completing 25-of-36 passes for 346 yards and four touchdowns. The Rams were without Aqib Talib in that game, but even with him on the field, they allowed Nick Foles (8.7 Y/A), Nick Mullens (8.5 Y/A) and Dak Prescott (8.3 Y/A) to pick up chunk passing yardage per throw in three of their past four games despite limiting opposing passers to just four passing touchdowns over that stretch.
3. Tom Brady (@ KC): The postseason is when the Patriots really let Brady go to work and last week was no exception. Brady completed 34-of-44 passes for 343 yards in the Divisional Round against the Chargers, the 13th consecutive postseason game in which Brady has thrown the football 35 times or more. Over that span, he’s averaged 45.9 passing attempts per game, posting 23.3 fantasy points per game. But Brady has played just six career non-Super Bowl postseason games on the road, throwing eight touchdowns to eight interceptions in those games. Brady cruised to 340 passing yards and a touchdown pass when these teams played in Week 6, but that game was at home. Kansas City was a much better defense at home this season, allowing just 216.3 passing yards per game at home compared to a blistering 325.4 per game on the road. I mentioned last week that some of their home splits were aided by an extremely light schedule at home, but they squashed Andrew Luck and the hot Colts Offense last week, so we can’t fully throw those splits to the side. Brady has played in Arrowhead just three times in his career -throwing three touchdowns to six interceptions in those games- but two of those games were over a decade ago, so they can just about be thrown out. Despite all the splits here pulling in a negative direction, I still have a hard time discounting Brady for fantasy purposes and would anticipate him having a strong game regardless of the surrounding noise.
4. Jared Goff (@ NO): Like every passer we’ve touched on so far, Goff had a massive passing game in this regular season matchup. When these teams played in Week 9, Goff completed 28-of-40 passes for 391 yards and three touchdowns. It’s doubtful the Rams can just run the ball on the road against this Saints Defense like they have the past three weeks, so Goff should easily exceed the 26 pass attempts per game he’s averaged the past three weeks as the Rams have run the ball 61.2 percent of their offensive plays. Even with the depressed passing volume of late, Goff hasn’t been great since returning from bye in Week 13. Goff has thrown for just 221.2 passing yards per game and 6.3 yards per pass attempt over those six games while also throwing one or fewer touchdown passes in five of those six games. In that first meeting between these teams, Goff had Cooper Kupp on the field and the Saints were a much worse pass defense at that stage of the season. New Orleans has allowed just 12 passing touchdowns to quarterbacks over the nine games since that matchup, but they have still allowed a couple of huge passing games over that span to Matt Ryan (377 yards) and Ben Roethlisberger (380 yards) to keep the lights on for those chasing a repeat performance from Week 9.
1. Damien Williams (vs NE): With four teams left to play and two of the top-5 scorers from the regular season season at the position in the player pool, it’s Williams who still stands out the most. Taking over as the lead back in the league’s highest-scoring offense, Williams has done nothing short of churn out steady, high-RB1 fantasy production. Williams has scored at least one touchdown in five straight games (with seven total over that span). In the four games that Spencer Ware has been absent for, Williams has produced 123, 140 and 154 yards from scrimmage surrounding 59-yard, one touchdown game in Week 17 when he played just 28 snaps. Williams also has receiving ability, catching 19-of-20 targets for 144 yards and two touchdowns over that four-game span. Ware hasn’t played since December 9th, leaving him as a mere afterthought at this stage given how well Williams has played. The Chiefs really attacked New England with Kareem Hunt’s versatility the past two times these teams have played, with Hunt accounting for 98 and 105 receiving yards to go along with three receiving scores in those games. Williams is a dual-threat option with major scoring upside.
2. Alvin Kamara (vs LAR): Kamara hasn’t given us a monster game playing alongside Mark Ingram, but he’s been a reliable, steady source of production. His high for yardage in a single game over his 12 games played with Ingram is 116 yards from scrimmage, but he’s averaged 90.5 yards per game over that span while hitting 100-yards from scrimmage in six of his past nine games, including in each of the past three. To tack on, his best game playing alongside Ingram this season came when these teams last played in Week 9. In that game, Kamara set highs with Ingram active, posting 116 total yards on 23 touches (the most he had in a game alongside Ingram this season), finding the end zone three times. That was one of six games on the season in which Kamara scored multiple touchdowns, tied with Todd Gurley for the most in the NFL this season. The Rams run defense rallied at home last weekend in stopping Ezekiel Elliott but defending Kamara’s versatility indoors will be another huge ask.
3. Todd Gurley (@ NO): Gurley returned to the lineup last weekend, turning 19 touches into 118 yards from scrimmage while finding the end zone. The big story surrounding him wasn’t his return, but how the Rams delegated opportunities in his return with C.J. Anderson still getting a significant amount of touches. Gurley played just 57 percent of the snaps, a far cry from his 86 percent average per week in the regular season. Still, Gurley out-snapped Anderson 45-34 in the game while running 19 pass routes compared to just five for Anderson. The biggest standout in terms of usage moving forward was that Anderson handled all six running back carries from inside of the 10-yard line and took both rushing attempts from inside of the 5-yard line. We love playing Gurley for his touchdown upside and don’t want to have that compromised, even in the slightest. The Saints run defense was phenomenal all season long, so we may see that split skew more in the favor of Gurley if the Rams fall behind or struggle to run like they have over the past three games. The Saints allowed just 55.9 rushing yards per game (first) to opposing backfields and 96.7 yards from scrimmage per game (second) to backs. In that midseason meeting between these teams, Gurley managed just 79 total yards on 19 touches, but did find the end zone and still tacked on six receptions.
4. Sony Michel (@ KC): Michel was the highest-scoring fantasy back of the Divisional Round, scoring three touchdowns and reeling off 138 total yards, his highest total in a game since Week 12. When these teams met in New England, the Patriots leaned on their power run game to establish an early lead on the Chiefs as Michel carried 24 times for 106 yards and two touchdowns, with 11 carries for 60 yards and both touchdowns coming in the first half of the game. The Chiefs run defense was gashed all season long (ranking 28th in rushing yardage allowed to backs at 113.5 yards per game), but they opened the playoffs off strong, holding the Colts backfield to 70 yards on just 12 total rushing attempts. Six of those carries and 58 of the yards came in the fourth quarter as well. The Patriots are assuredly going to run the football more here than six times through three quarters and the weather might set up for that power run game to be the focal point of the New England offense once again in the rematch while Michel carries high touchdown upside if New England puts points on the board.
5. James White (@ KC): Not only were the Chiefs poor against the run this season, but they also were exploited by backs in coverage during the regular season, another area where the Colts failed to take advantage of a week ago when they got run out of Arrowhead. The Chiefs ranked 24th in receptions (5.9) and 28th in receiving yardage (55.9) allowed per game to opposing backfields during the regular season to go along with six touchdown receptions surrendered to backs (T-27th). That includes the Week 6 meeting between these teams when White caught 5-of-7 targets for 53 yards while he also chipped in 39 yards rushing in that game. White was a fixture of the offense in the Divisional Round, seeing a gaudy 17 passing targets, catching 15 of them. As good as the Kansas City defense was a week ago, the Patriots won’t keep White out of the passing game plan like the Colts did with their backs.
6. Mark Ingram (vs LAR): Ingram managed just 36 total yards on 10 touches when these teams played in Week 9 as Kamara was one of the main points of emphasis for the Saints Offense that day. Ingram has averaged 52.7 yards from scrimmage on 11.4 touches per game over his past seven games with high marks of 74 yards and 14 touches in a game over that span. He’s also caught more than two passes in just one game this season. Ingram is always a threat to find the end zone, but his fantasy production is solely based on that coming to fruition given his overall usage.
7. C.J. Anderson (@ NO): Even with Todd Gurley returning to the lineup, Anderson found his way to 24 touches last week against the Cowboys, turning them into 124 total yards and two scores. With his 123 rushing yards, Anderson was the first Rams back to have three-straight games with at least 120 yards rushing since Gurley did so in his rookie season in 2015. As mentioned with Goff, the Rams have come out and been extremely run-heavy the past three games. To remain run-centric this weekend, they’ll not only need to be effective against the league’s best run defense in New Orleans (55.9 rushing yards per game allowed to backfields and the most rushing yards and individual back had against them was 76 yards by Ezekiel Elliott), but also maintain the type of game script they’ve had over that span, something in question as road dogs. When these teams played in Week 9, the Saints made the Rams completely one-dimensional, jumping out to a 35-14 halftime lead and forcing the Rams to run the ball on just 32.2 percent of their offensive plays. Anderson largely needs the Rams to have a specific combination of game script and scoring opportunities to create a strong fantasy environment, but the one out he may have is that the Rams brought him in both times inside of the 5-yard line a week ago. If Anderson can garner those short-range touches once again, he’ll hold onto some scoring appeal.
The remainder of the field. Burkhead has averaged 36.5 yards from scrimmage per game over his six games since returning to the lineup and managed to find the end zone in each of his past two games played… Ware hasn’t played since early December and is no lock to return this week. Williams has a touchdown in two of the four games in which Ware has missed.
1. Michael Thomas (vs LAR): When Thomas hits, he hits in a big way. With a 12-171-1 line in the Divisional Round last week, Thomas posted his seventh game on the season with double-digit receptions. One of those seven games occurred when these teams last played in Week 9 when Thomas lit the Rams up for 12 catches and a career-high 211 yards with a touchdown on 15 targets. That game came when the Rams and Marcus Peters here getting shredded regularly with Aqib Talib out of the lineup. The Rams secondary had been playing better of late, allowing 7.2 yards per target, 126 yards per game with just two touchdowns to opposing wide receivers since Aqib Talib returned in Week 13 through the end of the regular season, but allowed both Amari Cooper (6-65-1) and Michael Gallup (6-119) to have strong games a week ago. Indoors, Thomas is the top wideout available once again.
2. Tyreek Hill (vs NE): Hill was a few errant throws away from having a monstrous game last week against the Colts, but still managed to secure 8-of-13 targets for 72 yards while tacking on a 36-yard rushing score. The Patriots are notorious for taking away the opponent’s primary offensive weapon, but they’ve little answer for the playmaking ability of Hill. In two meetings over the past two seasons, Hill has posted lines of 7-133-1 and 7-142-3 against New England.
3. Julian Edelman (@ KC): Edelman has at least 90 receiving yards or a touchdown in seven of his past eight games played and has received double-digit targets in four of his past five games. Over that span, Edelman has 15 more targets than the next closest Patriots player (James White) and 32 more targets than the next closest wide receiver (Chris Hogan). Coming with an inherently high floor, Edelman also carries touchdown appeal, leading the NFL in red zone targets (22) since returning to the lineup in Week 5.
4. Robert Woods (@ NO): Woods had a modest 71 yards on five receptions when these teams last played in Wek 9, but his deployment is going to be much different this time around in the rematch. In that Week 9 meeting, the Rams had Cooper Kupp in the lineup, pushing Woods outside more often. In that game, Woods ran just 35.7 percent of his routes from the slot, his lowest rate in a game Weeks 5-19. In the seven games since Kupp was lost for the season, Woods has averaged 72.6 percent of his routes from the slot, including 88 percent and 81 percent over the past two games. Playing inside will afford Woods the best of the individual matchups, playing across from P.J. Williams instead of Marshon Lattimore and the resurgent Eli Apple.
5. Brandin Cooks (@ NO): Cooks was the top guy in the Rams passing game when these teams met earlier in the season, catching 6-of-8 targets for 114 yards and a score. As mentioned last week, Cooks’ ceiling has taken a step back to end the season as Jared Goff has struggled to connect on throws downfield. Over the six games since the Rams’ Week 12 bye, Cooks has averaged 50.8 receiving yards per game with a high of 65 yards. Over that span, Goff has completed just 10-of-35 passes attempts 15-yards or further downfield. Cooks carries upside but needs Goff to rekindle his vertical passing accuracy to have a repeat performance from Week 9.
6. Sammy Watkins (vs NE): Playing in his first full game since Week 9, Watkins was not limited last weekend, playing 93 percent of the offensive snaps and receiving 19.5 percent of the team targets. He turned that opportunity into six receptions for 62 yards, including a 34-yard catch and run. In Watkins’ nine full games this season, he averaged 5.0 receptions for 64.1 yards and 13.7 PPR fantasy points on 19.6 percent of the team targets. Watkins the cheapest attachment to the core of he Kansas City offense, but the Patriots did a good job of limiting him when these teams met in Week 6, though, holding him to just two receptions for 18 yards on four targets.
7. Ted Ginn (vs LAR): Ginn was another player last week that was a off-target passes away from notching a big game. He was underthrown on a potential 65-yard score to open the game, but those types of misconnects just highlight the difference between ceiling and floor performances when you rely on those types of targets. That said, Ginn still managed seven targets last week, giving him 20.5 percent and 18.9 percent of the New Orleans passing targets in his two games back in the lineup. At home once again, Ginn is an option in a potential track meet against a Rams Defense that had a hard time containing Michael Gallup on the perimeter last week.
8. Josh Reynolds (@ NO): Reynolds still carries a solid ceiling due to his offensive attachment and scoring ability, but as we saw a week ago, he still carries a near subterranean floor that can be the fourth or fifth option in his offense on a given week. As stated a few times here, I believe the Rams will have to crank up their passing volume in this game over weeks past and Reynolds still carries scoring upside. Over the past seven games, he lead the team with 11 red zone targets.
9. Phillip Dorsett (@ KC): With Josh Gordon gone, Dorsett has moved back into his initial role in the offense. He’s still playing behind Chris Hogan from an overall snap perspective, but he’s still outproduced Hogan in each of the past two games without Gordon, just as he did over the opening four weeks of the season. Dorsett has caught 9-of-10 targets for 75 yards and two touchdowns over the past two weeks. He still is a low-yardage option with a season-high of 66 yards, but Dorsett now has a touchdown reception in four of the seven games that he’s played in as a regular.
10. Keith Kirkwood (vs LAR): Kirkwood has been the primary slot receiver for New Orleans since Week 12 and last week he played a season-high 70 percent of the offensive snaps. He managed to find the end zone in that game against the Eagles, but Kirkwood snagged just two receptions, the seventh consecutive game in which he’s had two or fewer catches. In fact, his season-high for receptions in a game is just three. Still, he’s going to be on the field often as a receiver attached to Drew Brees in a potential high-scoring game indoors.
11. Chris Hogan (@ KC): We know Hogan is going to be out the field getting his cardo in, we just don’t have a great feel for when and if the Patriots will throw him the football. Hogan has played 83 percent, 94 percent and 91 percent of the offensive snaps the past three games after averaging 91.7 percent of the offensive snaps through the first five weeks of the season before Josh Gordon began playing as a full-time player. The hang up is that Hogan has averaged just 2.5 catches for 27.5 yards over those eight games and has scored a touchdown in just two different games this season. Hogan is a play on attachment to a good offense in hopes that opportunity catches up to his overall playing time.
The bottom of the barrel here. Conley was still on the field for 32 pass routes last week with Watkins returning to the lineup last week…With Watkins returning, Robinson ran just one pass route all game while Gehrig Dieter ran four… Smith is the fourth wheel in the Saints receiving tree with Ginn back. He ran just 10 pass routes last week and ran just 16 back in Week 16 when Ginn first returned to the lineup…Patterson is nothing short of a Hail Mary in hopes of catching a random touchdown or the longshot pairing with New England DST in hopes of a return score.
1. Travis Kelce (vs NE): Kelce is far and away the best tight end playing this weekend. Coming off a 108-yard performance on seven catches in the Divisional Round, Kelce has at least five catches in each of his past 16 games played. Kelce has at least nine targets in each of his past seven games. He’s also due to find the end zone soon as he hasn’t scored in four straight weeks, his longest drought of the season. For what it’s worth, the Patriots have done a good job preventing Kelce doing major damage to them in recent meetings. Over their three meetings in each of the past three seasons, Kelce has posted lines of just 5-61, 5-40 and 6-23 against New England with no touchdowns.
2. Rob Gronkowski (@ KC)
3. Ben Watson (@ LAR)
4. Josh Hill (vs LAR)
5. Gerald Everett (@ NO)
6. Tyler Higbee (@ NO)
7. Garret Griffin (vs LAR)
Tight ends 2-6 are one distant tier away from Kelce. Gronk did have three catches for 97 yards when the Patriots hosted the Chiefs in Week 6, but Gronk has barely been involved in the passing game at all of late. Gronk has just five catches on 11 targets over his past four games and has had more than three receptions in just one of his past nine games…Watson tallied a 3-62-1 game when the Saints played the Rams in Week 9, but his dwindled down the stretch as he’s split time with Hill. Even Griffin played 15 snaps in his first game of the season. In the Divisional Round, Hill ran 19 pass routes while Watson ran 15, but if you’re going to bet on one reaching the end zone, it would still be Watson. Watson out-targeted Hill 9-to-1 in the red zone this season and 6-to-1 inside of the 10-yard line… The Rams tight ends combined to catch 5-of-9 targets for 88 yards when these teams met earlier in the season. Everett has run more pass routes than Higbee in every game since Week 11, out-targeting Higbee 26-to-13 over that span, but he also hasn’t even caught a pass in either of the past two games. Higbee hasn’t had more than two receptions in a game since Week 11.
1. Wil Lutz