In this weekly article, we’ll use the early betting lines from Vegas to take a deeper look at which games to target and avoid for NFL DFS. Implied team totals have positive correlations with fantasy output, especially for quarterbacks. For the playoffs, we’ll simply go over the pros and cons of each game based on what the early lines are telling us. Note that these lines will probably change over the course of the week, which is why we call it ‘starting’ points.
Cleveland at Kansas City, Total 56
Cleveland is the only team of the remaining eight with a truly fantasy-friendly defense. Every other team ranks in the bottom half of the league in points allowed and fantasy points allowed. Yet Vegas has pretty high point totals all around. The Chiefs are your top priority this week. Patrick Mahomes is the Josh Allen and Lamar Jackson of last week. He’s expensive, but just click with your eyes closed. He will be worth it. I mean, Ben Roethlisberger just threw for over 500 passing yards against them.
With Mahomes, you have to like Tyreek Hill and Travis Kelce. Tight end is so noxious this week that you sort of have to choose Kelce. Hill is carrying an injury designation at the moment, but the Chiefs haven’t played starters in what will be three weeks when this game happens, so health should not be a concern for Hill or anyone else. I’m avoiding the Chiefs RB situation, because Cleveland has actually been stout against the run this season, and because it’s not clear what the time share will look like between Clyde Edwards-Helaire and LeVeon Bell (assuming full health for both).
The Browns just showed that they will not be counted out, and the run game is a huge reason why. Nick Chubb has averaged 19 fantasy points per game against the Steelers in the last two games, and Pittsburgh was the No. 1 run defense this season. The Chiefs ran 11th in fantasy points allowed to running backs, so on the Browns side, I’m looking at both Chubb and Kareem Hunt. Hunt is a fantastic value on DraftKings ($4800), a decent play on FanDuel ($6200) and tough to use on Yahoo ($26). The Browns’ D/ST might be popular after what they did in the Wild Card round, but even though they’re cheap, I don’t think a repeat performance is in the cards. I’ll be looking elsewhere for defense.
Tampa Bay at New Orleans, Total 52
New Orleans has beaten Tampa Bay twice this season in their regular divisional matchups. For that reason alone, this doesn’t seem like an exciting game to target for DFS, but I expect some fireworks. The Saints embarrassed Tom Brady and the Bucs on national television in Week 9. Since then, Brady has thrown for well over 300 yards in every game but two, with multiple touchdown passes in each. If you think revenge isn’t on his mind, you’re mistaken. Brady is always competitive, but I think this will be next level. You almost can’t go wrong with a Bucs’ wide receiver as a result of Brady’s prolific passing, and improved deep passing if the Wild Card game was any indication. I still like Chris Godwin the most, but both he and Mike Evans saw double-digit targets last weekend. Antonio Brown extended his touchdown scoring streak and he and Godwin both have five TDs in the last four games. On all three sites, the three receivers are clustered in salary, with Brown being the most affordable. Given that New Orleans is the worst fantasy RB matchup, I expect to stick with the Tampa pass game.
That unfortunately also has to consider tight end. Cameron Brate out-targeted Rob Gronkowski 6-to-1 last week. He ended with four catches for 80 yards. I don’t view this as repeatable and won’t be targeting Brate. Instead, I think it makes Gronk an interesting GPP target if you want to save at the TE position.
The Saints were finally able to show off all their various weapons in the Wild Card round. Michael Thomas was back, Alvin Kamara and Latavius Murray were in good form, and all three scored in the win. Drew Brees is orchestrating a fine offense, but with not much upside fantasy-wise. In two games against the Bucs this season he has thrown for about 380 yards and six touchdowns. It’s definitely easier to pass on the Bucs than to run on them – even Kamara only totaled 56 yards on the ground against them in two games (but he did score in both games) – and they actually rank 11th in fantasy points allowed to WRs and 10th to TEs. Brees wouldn’t be the worst play for cash game lineups. Kamara is the most expensive running back this week, and his cost is tough to work with if you’re using the Chiefs I noted above. Still, I have no issue with his talent or role in this passing game if you can afford him.
Michael Thomas’ salary has shot right up, and after a good first quarter, he was pretty quiet the rest of the game. He’s still affordable enough to include in any lineup this week and a must-have in a Saints-Bucs game stack. Deonte Harris tied Thomas with seven targets last week (four more than Emmanuel Sanders) and could be a key value play to make lineups work this week, given the Saints team total and his recent usage.
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Baltimore at Buffalo, Total 50
My two favorite QBs from last week get to face each other and I can’t wait. I am probably going to roster Mahomes this week, but Josh Allen, and then Lamar Jackson round out my top three plays. Allen was terrific against a tough Colts’ pass defense last week, and though the game was closer than it needed to be at the end, he played solidly, making good decisions and executing well through the air and on the ground. He can thank his receivers too: Stefon Diggs led the team in targets and receiving yards, scoring one touchdown, but both Cole Beasley and Gabriel Davis were perfect, combining for 11 catches on 11 targets. Any of these guys that you can fit are rosterable this weekend, despite Baltimore’s above average pass defense. Davis is another top value play, though not a guarantee to meet value with Diggs, Beasley, John Brown, and Dawson Knox in the mix. I like him in tournaments, whereas I’d use Beasley or Diggs in any contest.
Buffalo’s run game took a hit with Zach Moss landing on IR. I expect some sort of time share to ensue, and still won’t look to Devin Singletary to bail out my DFS lineups. Knox is another way to go at TE, if you don’t want to spend on Kelce. It’s throwing darts, but hasn’t it been all year? Knox at least has come on strong in the second half of the season, scoring all four of his touchdowns since Week 12, including one against the Colts last weekend.
The Ravens DFS outlook is pretty simple. Jackson is playable at will. Buffalo is one of the friendlier matchups for QB and RB in this field, and Jackson is going to do both. Marquise Brown is his clear No. 1 and has been playing like it over the last six games, in which he’s scored six touchdowns. He didn’t score against Tennessee, but did exceed 100 receiving yards on seven catches, both season highs for him. At just $5200 (DK), $20 (Yahoo) and $6500 (FD), Brown should be a staple in all lineups this week. I’d save Mark Andrews for GPPs, since the looks are there, but the yardage and touchdowns just aren’t. He could definitely pop vs. the Buffalo defense that gave up the sixth-most fantasy points to tight ends in the regular season, and Philip Rivers completed 14-of-16 passes to his tight ends against them last week.
I’m also not high on J.K. Dobbins or Gus Edwards, but will probably be forced to consider one of them on this run-heavy offense given their salaries. They were nearly identical to each other vs. the Titans, with the difference being Dobbins’ rushing TD. Dobbins rushed for three more touchdowns and 80 more yards on 10 fewer carries than Edwards during the regular season. He’s definitely the back I prefer, but it’s not a huge downgrade to Edwards if you need the extra salary cap space.
LA Rams at Green Bay, Total 46
Thanks mainly to their defense, and a bit to Cam Akers, the Rams are moving on. I suspect that Aaron Rodgers and the gang will be able to overcome this challenge, though the low point total here is a warning sign when it comes to the high salary of Davante Adams, perhaps. If the Packers do get up big on the Rams, Adams will almost certainly be the reason why, so using him sparingly with Rodgers isn’t a bad idea. They are the highest scoring team in the regular season, after all. To save, you might consider Marques Valdes-Scantling, but he is as likely to score as to post a goose egg. I’m honestly leery of any Packer not named Adams, and that includes the running backs. They have three potentially hot hands, with AJ Dillon showing his stuff on 21 carries in the regular season finale. Jamal Williams is probably the odd-man-out, and Aaron Jones is the best bet to reach value, but this is another situation bound to produce some headaches. I’m almost certainly using the Packers’ D/ST, especially on Yahoo ($13), but even when they are most expensive (on DraftKings, $3900). The Rams had a surprisingly high number of turnovers – 25 – this season, and are one of the lower scoring teams left in the playoffs.
Jared Goff is set to start for the Rams, but the healthy and well-rested Packers should control this game from start to finish. You’d ideally look to the running back facing Green Bay, based on their regular season generosity to the position, so Akers is a possibility for the Rams’ offense but his salary is crazy on FanDuel and Yahoo. You can save with Goff and his receivers, so use them with Akers in a multi-entry tournament lineup, but with the lowest team total and a stout defense in the frozen tundra of Green Bay, I’m mostly avoiding the Rams’ offense.