It’s still important to be different without being stupid in the playoffs but it’s a lot harder to do with so few players in the pool. You hear that defense wins championships and it’s true: the defense vs. position rankings for wild-card weekend don’t show a pretty picture for fantasy. Focus on using contrarian players for 1) upside—you’re shooting for the moon or 2) low-owned stability that allows you to afford the guys you want elsewhere. As usual, this is not meant to translate into a lineup (e.g. don’t use Rob Gronkowski and the Chiefs defense together), but rather to provide suggestions for how to shake up your lineup in GPPs.
Cam Newton $8700: The risk in playing this season’s #1 QB is in both price and matchup. He’s the second-most expensive option we’ll find at FanDuel and he’s playing in what is the clear defensive showdown of the Divisional Round. That said, Newton was decent in Seattle earlier this year, throwing and rushing for touchdowns with 299 total yards and two interceptions. Granted that was before Seattle really became Seattle again but also before Newton just shredded weak teams down the stretch. If you want to go contrarian, Newton with Ted Ginn Jr. likely back has more upside than an injured Ben Roethlisberger or conservative Alex Smith on the road.
Peyton Manning $7000: Manning is a much riskier play because at any sign of injury or ineffectiveness, Brock Osweiler will be ready to take over the game. However, if Manning can dig back into his fountain of prolific youth, he’s in the best spot to have a monster day of any quarterback on this slate. Everyone loves Emmanuel Sanders and/or Demaryius Thomas, but I expect Manning’s ownership to be low enough to help swing tournaments if he goes off.
Charcandrick West $6300: Running back after David Johnson is all contrarian. I like West here if Spencer Ware is out. The Chiefs will be winning this game with their defense if at all, and a complement to that is a typically conservative game plan that calls for moving the chains in short bursts and burning clock with a lot of rushing plays. Teams that have committed to the run (e.g. more than 25 rushes) have made progress against New England (e.g. Steelers, Bills, Broncos, Eagles, Jets). Ware has out-carried West the past two weeks, scoring in each, but I’m not afraid of Knile Davis taking much volume from the formerly prolific West if Ware is out. If Ware is miraculously healthy and in line for a normal workload, he’d be my contrarian RB pick in this game.
Ronnie Hillman/C.J. Anderson $5900: FanDuel is doing us no favors this week with both Denver backs priced the same this weekend. The case for using either is low ownership, low salary, and the idea that Denver wins this game big. Pittsburgh has one of the best run defenses in the league—only teams that have really committed to ramming it down their throat on the ground have had any success, and as you can see above I think Denver’s passing game is going to be effective. With Pittsburgh expecting to struggle on offense with potentially (likely) no Antonio Brown or DeAngelo Williams and Roethlisberger playing through torn ligaments in his shoulder, Denver’s lead could get big early opening up some game control rushing plays. Additionally, a healthy run game takes the pressure off Manning to some extent. Neither back did anything in Pittsburgh a few weeks ago, but both have broken out for big games in recent weeks. I’ll let you pick your poison should you go this route (I’m #TeamHillman, in the limited capacity that I’m targeting this play).
Doug Baldwin $7400: I’ve been on the fence about Doug Baldwin all week, and it’s possible he’s not contrarian at all if everyone comes down on the side of Josh Norman isn’t a slot corner and Baldwin gets a huge share of Russell Wilson’s passing attention. If enough people come down on the side of Carolina’s pass defense is stout beyond Norman and this could be a low-scoring game with advantage to the home team, Baldwin could have sneaky upside even at this increased salary. If the Seahawks do anything, it’s very likely going to be Baldwin doing it. It’s that simple.
John Brown $6700: Like Denver, I think Arizona comes out of the bye week strong and dominates a weaker Packers team on both sides of the ball. I love Carson Palmer, who thinks he has his finger woes solved, and although there are a number of capable targets in the Cardinals receiving corps (including David Johnson), Brown is probably going to be the lowest owned. Michael Floyd ended the season on a tear before injuring his knee, but Brown was the clear #2 guy for Palmer, with 65 catches, 1003 yards and 7 TDs. I still like Floyd, but I think Brown will be the better play this week in one of the top cornerback matchups with Damarious Randall, who has allowed the second-most fantasy points per route ran against him (per PFF, among cornerbacks playing this weekend).
Rob Gronkowski $8300: Gronkowski’s price is going to drive everyone to Greg Olsen, who also gets a better on-paper matchup (the Seahawks allowed the ninth-most fantasy points to opposing tight ends while the Chiefs were dead last in that stat). The Chiefs defense is formidable but if the Patriots game plan doesn’t call for Gronk early and often, I don’t see them having much chance of beating Kansas City. Spending this much at tight end is tricky but with Antonio Brown likely out, no one has more upside than Gronkowski.
Kansas City Chiefs $4600: I truly believe in this defense, even on the road and even despite what I just said about Gronkowski. The point of this article isn’t to suggest a complete lineup, but to consider viable contrarian options at each position. I think the Chiefs will be under-owned because they’re on the road and facing the best offensive dynasty the league has arguably ever seen. The Patriots struggled with injuries this year and guys like Julian Edelman may come into this game still a bit out of sync. With the way the Chiefs have been playing—fifth in takeaways (29) and fourth in sacks (47) for the regular season—I expect them to take advantage of any New England mistakes. It’s worth noting that Vegas has this game as pretty low scoring—definitely the lowest total the Patriots have seen all season.