We’re down to our last chance to hang on every snap, every drop back, ever handoff, every penalty flag flying from a ref’s hand, every agonizing touchdown replay. The Super Bowl marks the last chance to create single-game DFS lineups sure to jack up our anxiety to never-before-seen levels.
Single-game DFS contests require not just an acceptance of galaxy brain roster construction, but an embrace of it. We must become the galaxy brain. No game script, no scenario, no outcome can be dismissed. In fact, your dumbest ideas for how to build a Super Bowl DFS tournament lineup are probably your best chance at defying the masses and rocketing up the leaderboard as the unlikely becomes reality. Or you’re sitting near dead last, defeated and humiliated -- what I like to call “Sunday.”
Let’s start with the most unique game scripts and which players might benefit from said scripts.
The vast (vast, vast) majority of money is on the Chiefs covering the 3.5-point spread against Tampa this Sunday. And why not? KC shredded the Bucs’ defense in Week 12, though two late Tampa touchdowns made the score respectable. Tampa’s defensive weakness -- a leaky secondary -- fits well with what the Chiefs do: forsake the running game and destroy opponents with chunk plays to the league’s best pass-catching combo, Travis Kelce and Tyreek Hill.
But imagine, if you will, a world in which the Super Bowl gets away from the defending champs -- a contest that turns into a coronation for Tom Brady’s seventh Super Bowl win. It’s easy if you try.
What, you ask, would a decisive Bucs win look like? For one, it might look like a possessed Tampa front seven putting tremendous pressure on Patrick Mahomes, piling up sacks against a patchwork offensive line -- only two Week 1 o-line starters will play in the Super Bowl -- and forcing him into a pick or three. I know -- you can’t picture it. That’s the point.
An outrageously effective outing against Mahomes would require Tampa to play plenty of two-deep coverage against the Chiefs. They did just that when these teams met in November, when Tampa played two-deep on 31 of KC’s 53 passing plays. Mahomes this season has shredded single-high coverages, producing 0.42 EPA per play, the highest among all QBs in 2020. Against two-deep coverage, Mahomes produced 0.18 EPA, 13th highest among signal callers. Perhaps Bucs defensive coordinator Todd Bowles will turn down his usual blitz rate a notch with the Chiefs’ offensive line in disarray, counting on his front four to pressure Mahomes without leaving the team’s secondary in the unenviable position of playing single-high coverage against a lethal passing attack.
KC mistakes -- and the corresponding lack of points -- would set up the Bucs to beat the Chiefs the way the Panthers nearly toppled KC in Week 9 (a 33-31 Chiefs victory that was in doubt until the very end). Would this make an exciting, back-and-forth, high-scoring Super Bowl? Probably not. It would, however, give Tampa a real chance to defeat Mahomes and company.
Such a scenario would put the Bucs running game front and center -- a far cry from the last time these teams faced each other, when Tampa threw on 76 percent of its offensive snaps. Leonard Fournette, based on production, is priced miles above Ronald Jones in single-game Super Bowl contests. Opportunity wise, Tampa’s RB price points are off. Playoff Lenny has 29 carries to Jones’ 23 rushing attempts over the Bucs’ past two games (Jones was a curiously late scratch in the Wild Card round with a quad injury). Jones saw ten rushing attempts on his 18 offensive snaps in the NFC title game against Green Bay while Fournette dominated with a 69 percent snap share. I’d call that nice. Uncle Len enters the Super Bowl priced $5,600 more than Jones on DraftKings and $4,500 more on FanDuel.
Jones is another two weeks removed from his quad injury too. And it was Jones who rushed nine times for 66 yards (7.3 YPC) against the Bucs in Week 12, logging a 34-yard run and a 37-yard touchdown reception in negative game script. The understandable perception that Fournette has a death grip on the Tampa backfield should suppress Jones’ usage in single-game lineups, even at a rock-bottom price. You’ll never feel smarter in your entire existence if Bruce Arians flips the script and makes Jones the primary back against a vulnerable KC rush defense.
Kansas City’s rush defense isn’t just mediocre. It’s bad. Real bad. They ranked 31st in rushing EPA allowed during the regular season. Teams that stuck with the Chiefs had hefty rushing totals: In Week 2, the Chargers lost to the Chiefs by three while putting up 158 yards on the ground; in Week 4, New England stuck with the Chiefs for a bit while rushing for 166 yards; and in Week 5, the Raiders had 143 rushing yards in an eight point win against KC. No team exploited the Chiefs’ run defense more effectively than the Broncos, who -- quite unbelievably -- totaled 316 yards on the ground in two games against KC. I verified this 11 times because I did not believe it.
The challenge, of course, is being in position to run the ball against the Chiefs. When Mahomes, Kelce, and Hill are terrorizing your defense on every possession, your rushing attack is going to be shelved in favor of an offensive approach that actually gains yards and scores points. We call it the passing game. One cannot #establish if one is down by three scores in the first half.
Tepid galaxy brain would say stack Tampa’s defense with Fournette. Fully formed galaxy brain screams for a Bucs defense-RoJo stack. Either way, Tampa running backs could be the key to a contrarian roster build, especially as captains in a relatively boring, low-scoring Super Bowl.
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We’re now shifting to the more normie scenario in which Mahomes and the KC offense go wild against the Bucs and force Tom Brady into an absurdly pass-heavy attack, as we saw in Week 12 when Brady posted 345 yards, three touchdowns, and two interceptions against Kansas City after going down 17-0 in the first quarter.
This scenario would require us to play stacking options alongside Brady, who -- thanks to no Tampa pass catcher dominating targets -- makes for a solid captain choice here. The Chiefs are a nightmare draw for any receiver in any game script. No team allowed fewer wide receiver receptions in 2020 than KC, and only the Rams allowed fewer wideout yards. Nevertheless! Slot receivers are where it’s at against the Chiefs. We need look no further (but we will) than Chris Godwin catching eight of nine targets for 98 yards against the Bucs in Week 12. Jarvis Landry in the Divisional Round led the Browns in targets and catches against the Chiefs, and Cole Beasley paced the Bills in receptions against KC in the conference championship. The ball finds its way to slot guys against the Chiefs’ tough secondary.
Mike Evans also drew nine targets and nabbed two touchdowns in that Week 12 game; Evans should be viewed as the far more volatile option in Super Bowl DFS lineups. That makes him a better captain selection than Godwin, whose floor is certainly higher but whose touchdown-driven ceiling likely can’t match Evans.
Brady had very much gravitated toward targeting wideouts over the season’s second half -- a trend that ended abruptly in the Divisional Round against the Saints. Wide receiver target share for Tampa had eclipsed 60 percent six times from Week 10-18, only to plummet to 45 percent against New Orleans. That jumped back to 61 percent in the NFC title game against the Packers. The trend line, it seems, points to continued opportunity for the Bucs receivers.
Which leads me to Scotty Miller, he who mistakenly believes he can beat Tyreek Hill in a foot race. Miller is a unique player in the Tampa offense because of the straight line speed he loves to talk about. His usage in Super Bowl DFS lineups will hinge entirely on Antonio Brown’s availability, and for good reason. Brown sidelined for the NFC title game led to 20 pass routes and three targets for Miller, who cashed in with a touchdown on one of his two grabs. A look at Miller’s usage before Brady forced the team to sign his bestie, Brown, might be useful: he ran 27.8 routes per game and saw 37 targets in eight contests pre-Brown. His upside can be found in his usage, as nearly 38 percent of his targets came 20+ yards downfield before Brown signed with the Bucs. No other Tampa wideout was targeted downfield on more than 25 percent of his opportunities.
Miller profiles as a sneaky captain option who will allow you to jam high-priced guys into your lineup if Brown -- who looks to be on the wrong side of iffy for the Super Bowl -- is once again sidelined. On DraftKings, a Captain Miller allows you to have Mahomes, Hill, Kelce, Godwin (or Evans), and Jones in your lineup, for example. Or, if that’s not your thing, you could include Brady, Godwin (or Evans), Rob Gronkowski, Kelce, and Hill with Miller slotted in as captain.
Where, you might ask, do the Tampa tight ends fit into the single-game DFS equation? Recent usage and opportunity has made Cameron Brate the far more expensive option among the Bucs tight ends, which should spark your DFS galaxy brain into action. Brate is now $1,800 pricier on DraftKings and $500 pricier on FanDuel. But wait! Gronk has run 10 more pass routes than Brate over the Bucs’ three playoff games, though Brate has commanded 17 targets to just seven for Gronkowski. Maybe Gronk is too valuable as a blocker or maybe the team recognizes the wear and tear of a long season on an aged veteran. His Week 12 usage against the Chiefs is tough to ignore though. Running 27 routes, Gronk caught seven of eight targets for 106 yards in the Bucs’ frantic comeback attempt. Brate, meanwhile, saw six targets on 20 routes.
If Brady is in for another fat stat line against KC, one (maybe both) of his tight ends are going to benefit. Twenty-four percent of receiving yardage against the Chiefs came via the tight end in the regular season -- the fourth highest rate in the league. Most recently, Browns tight ends combined for seven catches against the Chiefs and Dawson Knox nabbed six of eight targets against KC, one for a touchdown. Gronk’s suppressed DK price point activates my salivary glands.
A DFS lineup based on a resounding KC win could -- naturally -- include the Chiefs big three, leaving pocket change for the rest of your roster. It could also include two of the big three and a Chiefs running backs who would, by default, stumble into 10 or 12 touches and maybe find his way into the end zone. Clyde Edward-Helaire’s Super Bowl DFS salary is gross, disgusting, nauseating. I could vomit just thinking about it. And therein lies CEH’s single-game appeal: DFS players will scroll right past the rookie in creating their lineups, doing the responsible thing and getting proper exposure to Darrel Williams.
Williams isn't without his appeal, beyond being $1,000 less than CEH on FanDuel and $1,800 less on DraftKings. A solid pass catcher out of the backfield, Williams could benefit from a matchup against a Bucs defense that gave up more running back receptions than any team in the NFL this season. The problem with that narrative: Edwards-Helaire took over Williams' pass-catching role two weeks ago against Buffalo, running 19 routes to Williams' 12 routes. They were both targeted just once.
I take absolutely no pleasure in reporting Edwards-Helaire -- thoroughly unimpressive even before his late-season hip and ankle injuries -- is a wonderfully contrarian option because he’s so terribly mispriced. Williams will probably have double or triple the usage in DFS lineups this Sunday. Even the supremely washed Le’Veon Bell might eclipse CEH in DFS usage. Two more weeks removed from the hip and ankle issues that kept him sidelined for a month, Edwards-Helaire is unfortunately a perfect play for those committed to unique lineups.
I’ve already mentioned the Bucs defense as a legit option if you’re going all in on a tragically galaxy brained lineup. If you’re into a special teams touchdown double dip -- and really, who’s not? -- you’re going to pair returner Jaydon Mickens with the Tampa defense.
The far more appealing double dip option is Mecole Hardman combined with the Chiefs’ defense. Hardman has the upside of being part of a high-scoring, high-flying offense, getting chances with jet sweeps and downfield shots as defenses key in on Hill and Kelce. Remember: Sammy Watkins’ presence in KC’s lineup doesn’t affect Hardman’s usage. The speedster actually averaged one more target per game with Watkins in the lineup.
You might expect me, the preeminent kicker propagandist, to write extensively about the kickers in this championship matchup. As much as I would like to do just that -- if only to trigger the kicker haters -- I will exercise some self-control.
Both teams allowed 26 field goals during the regular season, the eighth fewest in the NFL. It’s no surprise for two of the league’s best teams whose opponents rarely had the luxury of kicking field goals (except for the Bills, which worked out wonderfully for them in the AFC Championship). In 2020 regular season wins, Succop notched 4.36 extra points and two field goal tries per game. Butker averaged 3.43 extra points and just 1.86 field goal attempts in KC victories this season, a marked decrease from his 2018 and 2019 numbers.
When these teams met in November, Ryan Succop managed six points on one field goal try and three extra points while Harrison Butker managed nine points on two field goal attempts and three extra points. A lineup predicated on a Tampa win could include Succop -- along with Jones/Fournette, and maybe the Bucs defense. A Butker lineup wouldn’t have to include a KC running back since the Chiefs Offense is so incredibly pass heavy. The door is at least cracked for a useful Super Bowl kicker performance: neither the Chiefs nor the Bucs were in the top ten in red zone touchdown percentage this year. Using a kicker in your DFS lineup, of course, leaves you in the decidedly low-T position of rooting for stalled drives in the championship game. So be it.
Anyone who uses Succop or Butker in the captain spot should be investigated by the federal government. These are my politics.