Previewing the Divisional Round for fantasy

The second round of the playoffs promises a more exciting slate than the first, and Jeff Ratcliffe looks at the fantasy options.

| 4 months ago
Dak Prescott

(Tom Pennington/Getty Images)

Previewing the Divisional Round for fantasy


Seven. No, not the 1990s film where Brad Pitt asks “what’s in the box?” It’s how many games remain in the 2016 NFL calendar. Just seven games left for us to get our fantasy fix. The good news is that we have a fantastic slate of games for the Divisional Round. At the start of each game you’ll see a quick look at each primary fantasy position, including position rank, points per game and a quick plus/minus look at the quality of the matchup. That’s followed by an in-depth look at everything fantasy owners need to know for the first weekend of the playoffs.

Seattle @ Atlanta

Week 19 Quarterback Running Back Wide Receiver Tight End
Tm Opp Rk PPG MU Rk PPG MU Rk PPG MU Rk PPG MU
ATL SEA 30 13.2 29 15.9 21 32.6 28 8.9 – –
SEA ATL 1 17.7 + 2 23.0 ++ 8 35.3 7 14.1 ++

The NFC slate has the potential to offer some fireworks this weekend, with both contests getting an implied total of over 50 points by the folks out in the desert. This particular game features our No. 1 offense in the Falcons against a surging Seahawks squad that finally found their run game in the Wild Card Round.

Matt Ryan is coming off a possible MVP season where he set a career high in touchdown passes with 38 and came just 56 yards shy of topping 5,000. While there’s a lot to like about Ryan, his matchup is pretty rough this week. The Seahawks have been extremely stingy to opposing quarterbacks, allowing multiple touchdown passes to just four signal-callers in the regular season. That being said, one of them was Ryan. He put up three scores and 335 passing yards when these teams met back in Week 6.

In that previous meeting, Richard Sherman shadowed Julio Jones on 31 of his 44 routes run. Jones managed a big stat line of seven catches for 139 yards and a score, but most of that damage came when he wasn’t in Sherman’s coverage. Expect Jones to see a lot of Sherman again on Saturday. The less-than-ideal matchup and high price tag take Jones out of cash game consideration, but he’s worth tournament exposure, as is Taylor Gabriel.

The Falcons weren’t able to get much of anything going on the ground in their previous meeting with Seattle. Devonta Freeman has just 40 yards on 12 carries, while Tevin Coleman managed a lowly five totes for 10 yards. Despite these ugly numbers, there is some appeal here. The Seahawks were brutal against the run for most of the season, but they did surrender five rushing scores to running backs over the last two weeks of the season.

(Jonathan Ferrey/Getty Images)

Russell Wilson still doesn’t quite seem like himself, but he’s a very intriguing option this week due to his matchup. To be clear, Atlanta improved over the second half of the season, but they also got some easy matchups including the 49ers and Rams. With the Falcons favored to win this contest, Wilson is among the more appealing one-and-done quarterback plays.

The matchup is nearly as good for Wilson’s pass-catchers. Doug Baldwin his 100-plus yards and a score in two of his last three contests. He’s a strong play in all fantasy formats this week. Those looking for upside in tournaments may want to consider Paul Richardson. The oft-injured former second-rounder made three highlight-reel catches in the Wild Card Round. At tight end, Jimmy Graham should be considered the chalk one-and-done play.

Entering last week, Thomas Rawls averaged under two yards per carry in each of his three previous games. Well, he ended that streak in a big way, racking up 161 yards and a score on 27 carries. The Falcons struggled mightily against the run this season, so expect Seattle to lean heavily on Rawls.

Houston @ New England

Week 19 Quarterback Running Back Wide Receiver Tight End
Tm Opp Rk PPG MU Rk PPG MU Rk PPG MU Rk PPG MU
HST NE 26 14.2 18 18.1 27 30.0 22 10.7
NE HST 29 13.5 13 19.3 30 28.6 29 8.4 – –

We have three exciting games on this week’s slate. This is not one of them. Perhaps we could squeeze some sort of Bill O’Brien “revenge” narrative out of this contest, but otherwise it’s about as straightforward as they come. The Texans are simply overmatched, and currently sit at 16-point underdogs.

There isn’t much to be said about the Texans in this contest, so I’ll save you the extra 200 words. Brock Osweiler is a straight fade regardless of the fantasy format. DeAndre Hopkins has moderate one-and-done appeal, but he projects to see shadow coverage from Malcolm Butler. C.J. Fiedorowicz just doesn’t have a high enough ceiling to be considering as a fantasy option this week. However, Lamar Miller is in play. He’s coming off a career-high 31 carries and managed over 100 scrimmage yards when these teams faced each other earlier this year. Miller is a strong one-and-done option.

Okay. With that out of the way, let’s talk about the Patriots. Like a fine wine, Tom Brady continues to get better with age. He’s coming off a potential MVP season where he tied with Aaron Rodgers for third in fantasy points per dropback. However, it’s tough to endorse playing him this week. With a game script that will likely favor the run game, his high price tag is tough to justify in DFS. And in one-and-done formats, you should do your darnedest to save Brady for the Super Bowl.

(Maddie Meyer/Getty Images)

Since Rob Gronkowski went down, Julian Edelman has been unquestionably Brady’s top receiving option. Over the last seven weeks of the regular season, Edelman saw a league-high 80 targets culminating in his explosive Week 17 performance. Edelman figures to see heavy volume regardless of the game script and is in play as a DFS cash-game option. Michael Floyd caught three balls for 36 yards and a score in the finale. With Malcolm Mitchell trending toward scratching, Floyd becomes an interesting DFS tournament option. Likewise, Martellus Bennett is in the mix as a tournament play. He’s too inconsistent to consider for cash games.

LeGarrette Blount scored a massive 18 touchdowns in the regular season. There’s certainly a scenario where the Patriots fed Blount 30-plus carries in this contest. But before we simply ink him, it’s important to note that over the last three weeks, Blount has 51 touches and Dion Lewis has 50. That split could very well continue this weekend. James White isn’t like to get more than a couple carries, but he continues to be the preferred passing-down back with 16 targets over the last three games – Lewis had just six.

Pittsburgh @ Kansas City

Week 19 Quarterback Running Back Wide Receiver Tight End
Tm Opp Rk PPG MU Rk PPG MU Rk PPG MU Rk PPG MU
KC PIT 28 13.5 5 21.5 + 28 29.7 15 11.9
PIT KC 22 14.8 21 17.6 7 35.6 30 8.1 – – –

Arrowhead stadium is a tough place to play, so don’t expect a repeat of last week’s trouncing by Ben Roethlisberger and the Steelers offense. Also, don’t expect a lot of points to come from this contest. Currently the lowest over/under of the weekend at just 44 points, this game should feature a slow offensive pace from the Chiefs as they look to control the tempo.

Needless to say, a slow pace isn’t what you’re looking for from a fantasy standpoint. Alex Smith set a career best in passing yards this season. Of course, that was just 3,502 yards, which ranked 22nd in the league. Smith does offer some upside with his legs, and he’s a cheap DFS option. At the same time, his low ceiling makes him a somewhat suboptimal play.

Jeremy Maclin did very little to endear himself to fantasy players this season, but Tyreek Hill sure did. Arguably the league’s most explosive player in 2016, Hill is a threat to score every time he touches the ball. Unfortunately, those touches weren’t very frequent in the regular season with an average of 5.3 per game. Hill is too risky for cash games, but has appeal as a DFS tournament option and a one-and-done play. Travis Kelce is coming off a lackluster Week 17 performance, but he did manage 100-plus yards in five of the last seven games of the season. The Steelers are tough on tight ends, but Kelce still makes for a strong play this week.

By all accounts, Spencer Ware had a good season from a football standpoint. He received positive grades as a runner, receiver and blocker. But from a fantasy standpoint, he was a bit of a disappointment thanks to just five total touchdowns. The volume will likely be there for Ware in this contest, but his inability to find pay dirt makes him a less than ideal cash-game option. Stick to DFS tournaments and one-and-done contest with Ware.

(Ezra Shaw/Getty Images)

Last week, we saw the potential volatility of playing Ben Roethlisberger. If the Steelers get out to an early lead, they could again look to control the ball with plenty of Le’Veon Bell. That potential coupled with the bad matchup make Roethlisberger a risky cash-game play. He’s better suited to tournament lineups.

Expect Antonio Brown to be the highest-owned receiver in cash-game formats this week. He’s coming off a massive performance in the Wild Card Round, and should keep on producing this week. The Chiefs do not use shadow coverage, so Brown will likely avoid Marcus Peters for much of the day. With Ladarius Green looking extremely unlikely to suit up, Brown is really the only Steelers pass-catcher worth playing in DFS formats.

Like Brown, Le’Veon Bell is about as chalk as they come this week. He too had a huge game last week, and is coming off a regular season where he averaged 28 touches per game. The Chiefs were reasonably strong against the run for much of the season, but they struggled down the stretch, especially after losing ILB Derrick Johnson to a ruptured Achilles. Bell projects to see a heavy workload and is worth every penny of his expensive DFS price tag.

Green Bay @ Dallas

Week 19 Quarterback Running Back Wide Receiver Tight End
Tm Opp Rk PPG MU Rk PPG MU Rk PPG MU Rk PPG MU
DAL GB 4 17.1 + 25 16.9 2 38.5 + 12 12.8 +
GB DAL 17 15.7 30 15.8 9 35.3 3 14.9 ++

Saving the best for last? Quite possibly. With the highest over/under of the week, this contest features two very different offenses that are equally explosive. The Cowboys boast one of the league’s best rushing attacks, while the Packers have arguably the league’s best signal-caller. This should be fun.

Just five months ago, Dak Prescott was turning heads in the preseason. Despite his fourth-round pedigree, he had potential. But this was still Tony Romo’s team. Then the fourth preseason game happened, and Prescott’s fate turned dramatically. He wasn’t elite in the regular season, but Prescott played very well and finished as fantasy’s No. 6 quarterback. His cheap price and plus matchup put him in play as a salary reliever in DFS contests this week.

Injuries have plagued Dez Bryant over the last two years, but he remains one of the league’s best receivers when fully healthy. He’s just that this week, and offers a lot of appeal as a DFS tournament options. Green Bay managed to hold the Giants receivers in check last week, but they were one of the worst coverage units in the regular season. Additionally, those looking to save some salary cap at tight end will want to give Jason Witten strong consideration. He’s just above minimum price and should have no problem reaching value this week.

It’s hard not to like Ezekiel Elliott this week. Sure, the matchup data isn’t favorable, with the Packers surrendering the eighth-fewest fantasy points per game to running backs. But with Elliott, the matchups really don’t matter that much. He had 80-plus rushing yards in all but one game this season, and he torched the Packers for 157 rushing yards when these two teams met back in Week 6. It’ll be challenging to get Elliott and Le’Veon Bell in cash-game lineups this week, but it’s a strategy worth pursuing.

(Hannah Foslien/Getty Images)

This Aaron Rodgers kid might just make something out of himself. Despite losing Jordy Nelson early in last week’s contest, Rodgers still managed to throw for four scores, including another Hail Mary play. Rodgers is expensive, but he’s as good as it gets at quarterback this week. Play him in one-and-done formats if you believe the Packers will lose.

Nelson’s rib injury will keep him sidelined Sunday, which means more Davante Adams. The ascending third-year receiver saw 11 targets last week, catching eight for 125 yards and a score. He has seven touchdowns in his last seven games. At a slight discount, Adams is arguably the top wide receiver play in DFS this week. Randall Cobb also deserves consideration after this three-touchdown performance last week. Cobb finally looked like himself after he struggled for most of the second half of the season. Nelson’s absence will also mean an expanded role for Geronimo Allison. He’s worth a dart or two in DFS tournaments. Jared Cook is maddeningly inconsistent, but his high ceiling gives him both DFS and one-and-done appeal.

Ty Montgomery remained Green Bay’s primary running back last week, playing 41 offensive snaps. However, Christine Michael, who saw just 14 snaps, was clearly the better runner. Look for the Packers to again split touches between the two this week. That’s makes both players extremely volatile for fantasy purposes. It’s a situation that’s better to be avoided.

| Director of Fantasy

Jeff Ratcliffe is the Director of Fantasy at Pro Football Focus. He produces all of our projections and is 2016's second-most-accurate ranker in the fantasy industry. Jeff also is the host of our show on SiriusXM fantasy sports radio and is one of the main hosts of our Fantasy Slant podcast.

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