I can’t emphasize this enough for those grinding Championship Weekend DFS contests: This week’s pricing is softer than my midsection in the dreary midwinter.
Especially on DraftKings, players are priced down to absurd levels. Some screaming examples on DK: Brandon Aiyuk at $4,400, Kadarius Toney at $3,700, Brock Purdy at $5,800, Dallas Goedert at $4,100, and, to a lesser extent, Joe Mixon at $6,500. Not even Travis Kelce ($7,800) is priced appropriately this week. This means, most likely, you’re going to make lineups with salary remaining, and you’re going to panic and change a well-constructed roster. Accept that many roster builds are going to leave cash on the table.
Let’s get into lineup building for tournaments in this two-game slate, which will require even harder galaxy braining than usual.
Chiefs (+1.5) vs. Bengals
Bengals implied total: 24.25
Chiefs implied total: 22.75
Both of these defenses are fully committed to allowing nothing to develop downfield. Both the KC and Bengals secondaries play as much two-high safety coverage as any defense in the NFL. Particularly against elite quarterbacks, they make opponents dink and dunk their way down the field.
Josh Allen wasn’t willing to exercise that kind of patience and it showed: He completed 59 percent of his passes last week against the Bengals for 265 scoreless yards and an interception. Allen’s 5.24 adjusted yards per attempt was his third lowest mark of the season.
In the Chiefs’ Week 13 meeting with Cincy -- a 27-24 Bengals win -- Mahomes, like Allen in the Divisional Round, posted pedestrian numbers. His 223 yards were the third fewest of the 2022 season. The Bengals were one of just four teams to hold Mahomes to one touchdown throw.
In analyzing the Kansas City offense, there’s not much to glean from these teams’ Week 13 matchup beyond Mahomes checking down to Travis Kelce five times and spreading the ball around to short-area pass catchers. Fresh off his 12-catch performance against the Jaguars, Kelce’s less-than-appealing matchup against the Bengals could make him fadeable for the bravest DFS players among us. He accounted for a mere 12 percent of KC’s air yards in Week 13 against these Bengals. One thing you can say about a Kelce-less Championship Week DFS squad: It’ll be different.
Chiefs beat writers believe the team could use far more two tight end sets than usual to protect a hobbled Mahomes. That would likely increase snaps for Noah Gray, who ran a route on 20 of the team’s 39 drop backs last week against Jacksonville. A miniature slate means Jody Fortson‘s injury status is worth tracking. His absence could be big for Gray’s usage against the Bengals. Fortson is questionable with an elbow issue.
Marques Valdes-Scantling, it should be worth noting, had 61 percent of the Chiefs’ air yards in Week 13. He caught two of his five targets for 71 yards with 23.3 air yards per target. That nearly doubled the next closest KC pass catcher (Justin Watson). MVS could (should?) be in play if you’re going heavy with a Chiefs mega-stack. I take no pleasure in saying so.
Mahomes’ (potentially severe) ankle injury is probably going to force him to check down time and again against a Cincinnati defense designed to keep everything in front of them. That would seem to benefit Kelce, JuJu Smith-Schuster, Kadarius Toney, and Jerick McKinnon.
McKinnon’s pass game involvement has been iffy, at best, of late: He didn’t see a single target in the Divisional Round after getting just three looks in Week 18. McKinnon still has an edge in pass routes, logging a 52 percent route rate over the past five games to Isiah Pacheco‘s 33 percent rate. The Bengals during the regular season allowed the tenth fewest running back receptions.
Maybe it doesn’t matter that Toney is being used as a part-time player in the KC offense. He was targeted on half of his 12 pass routes last week against Jacksonville; he had five grabs for 36 yards and almost scored a touchdown. He also had one rush for 14 yards, and has five rushing attempts over his past two games. The Chiefs clearly want to get him involved, ideally in space. The downside in a two-game slate is Toney’s price point, which will attract eye-popping rostership. Beware: Your eyes might pop.
The Athletic’s Nate Taylor believes Pacheco could see a bump in usage as the team’s primary ball carrier to “ease the burden” on Mahomes and his sprained ankle. Coming off a 101-yard performance in the Divisional Round, Pacheco -- one of the NFL’s most efficient rushers -- could easily see a dozen carries against a Bengals defense that gave up the 15th highest rush EPA in the regular season.
Like he did last week against the Bills, Burrow is going to have to move the ball patiently and methodically as the Chiefs deploy shell coverage to guard against long balls for Ja’Marr Chase and Tee Higgins. If Joe Mixon and Samaje Perine can rip the soft KC front seven, maybe -- just maybe -- the Chiefs will be bullied out of their usual cover-two, possibly opening up downfield looks for Burrow and company.
If this matchup is anything like Week 13, there will be plenty of dinking and dunking for Burrow. He had a humble 7.6 average depth of target in Week 13 against the Chiefs, completing 80.4 percent of his passes. Expect Chase to be deployed as a short-area pass catcher here, as he was in Week 13 when he caught seven of eight targets for 97 yards, with an 8.5 aDOT. I see Chase -- along with Kelce -- as the two least fadeable options on this two-game slate.
Higgins had a 12.3 aDOT against Kansas City in Week 13 and came down with three of four targets for 35 yards and a touchdown. Leading the Bengals in yards per route run against two high safety coverage, Higgins should probably be jammed into any Bengals mega-stack this week.
Back to the backfield: Perine was the team’s lead back in Week 13 with Mixon sidelined by a brain injury. Burrow’s constant checking down led to seven targets for Perine; he caught six for 49 yards while adding 106 yards on 21 rushes. Mixon has since taken over as the primary rusher but just last week Perine caught all five of his targets for 31 yards as the Bengals’ primary two-minute drill back. Using both Cincinnati running backs in a lineup is certainly not off the table this week. Consider your galaxy brain engaged.
I guess Tyler Boyd is in play because the options are so limited this week. He had 60 yards on four receptions against Kansas City (along with a dropped touchdown) in the regular season and could see decent involvement if the Chiefs commit to stopping any and all downfield shots. The matchup is right: The Chiefs are allowing the second most slot receptions this season.
49ers (+2.5) at Eagles
Eagles implied total: 24.5
49ers implied total: 22
DFS players are likely going to roster DeVonta Smith more than A.J. Brown this week. I get it: Smith over the past month has operated as the 1A to Brown’s 1B. Smith over the regular season’s final five games had three more expected fantasy points than Brown. Last week against the Giants, Smith doubled Brown’s target total (10 to 5), though Brown played only 70 percent of the team’s snaps as he struggled with a hip injury.
It’s Brown, however, who excels against zone coverage, and it’s the Niners who play as much zone as any defense in the NFL. Brown during the regular season had a higher yards per route run, target share, and aDOT than Smith against zone coverage. Assuming he’s a full go this week, Brown could be something of a contrarian Philadelphia stacking option if DFS players flock to Smith. Perhaps the answer to whom we should stack with Jalen Hurts is both receivers.
Dallas Goedert, as mentioned above, is priced egregiously low on DraftKings. It makes him worth considering -- possibly in a two tight end lineup -- even though he takes on a 49ers defense that has wrecked opposing tight ends all year. Only two tight ends have totaled more than 55 yards against San Francisco this season. Perhaps Goedert’s high route rate (he ran 91 percent of the team’s routes in the Divisional Round) can serve as a buffer for a dud of a game. He doesn’t need to do much to prove a value play.
Sanders is the rare fantasy running back who sees solid rushing volume and remains completely touchdown dependent because, simply put, he has nothing to do with the Eagles’ passing offense. Sanders has one reception over his past four games. He’s a terribly thin fantasy option even on a truncated DFS slate. Kenneth Gainwell, the only Philly back to run pass routes last week against New York, is a more appealing price-adjusted play, though his Divisional Round outburst (121 yards and a touchdown) will attract massive rostership. Going against a 49ers defense allowing the second lowest rushing EPA, the move might be to fade the Eagles backfield altogether.
Christian McCaffrey‘s calf situation creates plenty of uncertainty in the Niners backfield ahead of the NFC title game. Elijah Mitchell last week against the Cowboys had 14 carries to just 10 for CMC, grinding his way to 51 yards while McCaffrey nursed his injury. Depending on the team’s injury report over the next couple days, we could see DFS players hedge on jamming McCaffrey into their lineups. That, for better or worse, would make him an appealing play with so few options.
Last week against Dallas, CMC managed to run 81 percent of the routes and command a team-high 27.5 percent target share.
Philadelphia’s rush defense is not the pushover unit it once was. Things had changed rather dramatically over the past two months. From Week 1-10, only the Browns allowed a higher rush EPA than the Eagles, and no defense gave up a higher rushing success rate. Since the team added run-stopper Linval Joseph and made adjustments to better stop enemy runners, the Eagles have allowed the 12th lowest rush EPA and eighth lowest success rate. Philadelphia has what it takes to slow Kyle Shanahan‘s relentless rushing attack and perhaps force the Niners to the air more than they would prefer.
Probably that’s bad news for Brock Purdy. The rookie takes on a shutdown Eagles secondary that has allowed only three 100-yard receiving performances this season (Terry McLaurin twice and Christian Watson once). This week will constitute his toughest test by far in his two months as the team’s starter. Philly has allowed the league’s lowest pass EPA this season.
But wait, there’s more: Purdy and a mega-stack of San Francisco pass catchers should make your lineup at least somewhat unique in this two-game slate. George Kittle and Brandon Aiyuk are the most obvious beneficiaries of a pass-heavy game script, but let’s not forget about Jauan Jennings, who will escape the clutches of James Bradberry and Darius Slay on the outside. Jennings, with four receptions for 67 yards in the Niners’ two playoff games, leads the team in slot rate (54 percent) and has functioned as a downfield threat during Purdy’s time under center (14.5 aDOT).
Deebo Samuel, running about 40 percent of his routes from the slot, should also stay away from Slay and Bradberry. A limited CMC could create more rushing opportunity for Deebo, who has seven carries in the Niners’ two postseason games.
It was only a week ago that we saw Giants slot man Richie James lead the team in targets and catch seven passes for 51 yards. He also dropped a 70-yard touchdown, which put me in a coma for 48 hours. I may never fully recover.