Cam Newton is the key to DFS success this weekend
George Fitopoulos pours through PFF's projected box scores to find the best DraftKings values for Conference Championship weekend.
Cam Newton is the key to DFS success this weekend
In a two-game slate it’s not only important to play chalk, but to play the right chalk. There will be a lot of overlap in large-field GPPs so if you miss out on a high-owned player that goes off you’re climbing uphill the rest of the way. However, that doesn’t mean there aren’t areas where you can differentiate yourself from the rest of the pack. One of my favorite ways to do this is by playing a tight end or running back at the FLEX position.
Let’s get to the slate of picks so you know who you should be playing.
Note: Every week I will take our Box Score Projections and plug them into an excel sheet with DraftKings dollar values. From this, we’re able to see PFF’s projected dollar per touch, which is a great predictor for which players will be the best values for DFS.
All four defenses are graded in the top five by PFF in pass coverage, but pass rush is a bit of a different story. Only the Broncos have graded out as an elite unit while the Patriots and Panthers rank 10th and 13th, respectively. The Cardinals pass rush grades out rather poorly as it ranked 27th in the league. So what does this all mean?
We’re in for a doozy of a weekend as both games are projected to be very, very close. In fact, our projections have the combined winning margin between the two games at 0.6 points.
I’m all over Cam Newton ($7,200) this weekend and the odd thing is I think the league’s MVP will be the lowest-owned of the three elite options given he has the worst options to throw to. That said, I think he has the easiest matchup paired with a great offensive line to protect him. We have Newton projected to throw for the most touchdowns, but also add 40 yards on the ground with a 40 percent chance at a rushing touchdown.
After Newton, I think it’s a close call between Tom Brady ($7,500) and Carson Palmer ($6,800) as both players should attempt plenty of passes albeit against great defenses. I’d lean slightly towards Palmer because of his price and the fact that the Panthers secondary has allowed 300-plus passing yards in three straight games — we have Palmer projected for 317 pass yards.
If you’re feeling lucky you can chance it with Peyton Manning ($5,500) for some serious cap relief as well as a contrarian play. It’s likely that Manning will go owned in fewer than 15 percent of lineups and we have him projected for almost 300 passing yards. However, his upside is limited as we only have him projected for 1.2 touchdowns.
The only other running back with a safe shot for 20-plus touches is Jonathan Stewart ($5,900), who we have projected for 18 opportunities, 86 total yards, and a 50 percent chance at a touchdown. Stewart is a little more game script dependent and he tends to lose some red zone touches to both Newton and the occasional Mike Tolbert ($2,200) touchdown vulture.
Despite being the most expensive running back on the slate, David Johnson ($6,500) is still our third-most valuable play with a projected 23 opportunities, including four catches, 112 total yards, and 90 percent chance at a score. Even in his disappointing showing last week he provided 78 total yards on 21 touches. He’s an automatic play for me given how ugly this slate of running backs are and you will likely get him at lesser ownership than last weekend.
When it comes to the Broncos backfield it’s clear who is the superior player — that’s C.J. Anderson ($4,400) — but they’re both stuck in a 50/50 time share, which is why we have Anderson projected for 15 opportunities and Ronnie Hillman ($3,900) at 14. I’m still leaning Anderson because he’s running better as of late, but if you need the salary relief Hillman isn’t a bad pivot.
Finally, I’m not sure you can call the Patriots backfield a mess because it’s basically non-existent. Steven Jackson ($3,000) is our top value of the slate, but while we have him projected for 13 opportunities, we’re only looking at 46 total yards and a 30 percent chance for a touchdown. Meanwhile, James White ($4,600) and Brandon Bolden ($2,600) are true desperation plays as they get very few looks on a per-game basis. If I’m rolling with anyone here it’s going to be Jackson because he will at least give me some decent salary relief and could punch in a score on a goal line carry.
The next-best receiving unit is in Denver with Demaryius Thomas ($7,000) and Emmanuel Sanders ($6,300). The biggest downside to their projection is their aging quarterback with his limited arm. While Manning wasn’t on the field during their regular season matchup it was Sanders who shined with six catches and 113 yards. It’s very likely the Patriots focus on shutting down Thomas again this Sunday so Sanders could make for a nice play.
Let’s start with the most loaded group and that’s the Cardinals trio who is facing the both the best cornerback in the league and a secondary that is allowing some big games as of late. Using our WR/CB Chart it shows that whoever is lined up away from Josh Norman will have a nice matchup. The Cardinals love to rotate their receivers on the outside so both Michael Floyd ($5,300) and John Brown ($5,200) will get their time away from Norman. The elite play is Larry Fitzgerald ($6,900), who will man the slot and have very little (or zero) exposure to Norman in this matchup.
A lot of the Patriots success in the passing game will depend on the health of Chris Harris Jr., but we’ve learned that they can overcome any tough matchups. I love Julian Edelman ($7,500) as he’s coming off a game where he saw 16 targets in his first game back. Other than Edelman, it’s tough to rely on any other options although Brandon LaFell ($3,300) comes in as our third-best value with his 5.7 projected targets.
The worst bunch of the group falls on Carolina, but they’ve been the same group all season that has shown the ability to make a big play or two. Two interesting plays here are Jerricho Cotchery ($2,400), who we have projected for four targets from the slot. Another interesting name is Devin Funchess ($3,200), whose playing time has been a little all over the map recently. That said, Funchess has 12 red zone targets this season with five catches and five touchdowns.
There’s a big $5,000 gap between the top of the position and the rest of the group. Obviously, if you can fit either Rob Gronkowski ($7,600) or Greg Olsen ($7,100) — or both — you’ll want to do that because the next-best option is the unreliable Owen Daniels ($2,300). Gronkowski and Olsen are both projected for more targets than the rest of the field combined.
George Fitopoulos is a writer for PFF Fantasy and can be reached on Twitter @PigskinProf.