Previewing Wild Card weekend for fantasy

Jeff Ratcliffe previews everything fantasy owners need to know in the first weekend of the fantasy playoffs.

| 5 months ago
Aaron Rodgers

(Leon Halip/Getty Images)

Previewing Wild Card weekend for fantasy

After a tumultuous NFL regular season, we’re down to 12 teams active, and for fantasy purposes, that’s eight teams and four games that matter this weekend. When playing in such a limited slate, it’s important to know as much as possible. That’s always true, of course, but you’re much more likely to blindly stumble into a successful cash game lineup when there are 32 teams to choose from than eight.

With that in mind, below is a fantasy preview of all four of this weekend’s games. 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.

Good luck in Wild Card weekend.

Oakland @ Houston

Week 18 Quarterback Running Back Wide Receiver Tight End
HST OAK 7 16.8 10 19.8 18 33.4 11 13.0 +
OAK HST 29 13.5 13 19.3 30 28.6 29 8.4 – –

It’s a battle of also-rans at quarterback in this contest, as the Texans will roll with Brock Osweiler and the Raiders are down to third-string rookie Connor Cook. Needless to say, both defenses are appealing plays this week, with the Texans being the clear chalk play in DFS.

In theory, this is a good matchup for Oswelier, as the Raiders give up the seventh-most fantasy points per game to quarterbacks. But that’s a slightly deceptive stat with a lot of the productivity coming in the first month of the season. Oakland hasn’t allowed more than two passing scores or over 300 yards since Week 5, so don’t get cute with Osweiler this week.

Unfortunately, this match will also limit DeAndre Hopkins’ upside. He projects to see a lot of Sean Smith, who was burnt multiple times back in September, but managed to put together a solid season. Smith allows a reception on just 56.8 percent of his targets. C.J. Fiedorowicz finished the regular season as a top-20 fantasy tight end. He’s a low-cost DFS option this week.

Lamar Miller will return to action after missing the last two weeks with an ankle injury. When healthy, Miller has been heavily used this season with an average of 21.4 touches per game. He’s a volume play against a Raiders defense that has given up seven rushing scores to running backs over their last seven games.

(Buda Mendes/Getty Images)

With Derek Carr out and Matt McGloin banged up, things couldn’t get much worse for the Raiders. Cook played relief duty in Week 17 and looked very much the part of a rookie. He completed 14-of-21 passes, but at an average target depth of just 6.8 yards. His presence doesn’t help the cause of the Oakland receivers.

Despite being maligned in some fantasy circles, Amari Cooper put together a strong statistical season with 1,154 receiving yards. It’s tough to get behind playing him this week, though, as he’ll faced ascending talent A.J. Bouye for much of the day. Michael Crabtree also managed to top 1,000 yards. He’s a slightly more appealing option in a better matchup against Johnathan Joseph. The veteran corner will be back on the field after sitting out the season finale.

The Raiders’ backfield is a little tricky for fantasy purposes. Latavius Murray is still the lead back, but Oakland actually gave DeAndre Washington more carries in Week 17. They also continue to use Jalen Richard as a receiving option. This full-blown committee situation is a nightmare that is best avoided in DFS and one-and-done formats this week.

Detroit @ Seattle

Week 18 Quarterback Running Back Wide Receiver Tight End
DET SEA 30 13.2 29 15.9 21 32.6 28 8.9 – –
SEA DET 6 16.9 20 17.7 14 34.2 5 14.9 ++

The quarterback situation is much better in Saturday’s late contest. Russell Wilson wasn’t the best fantasy asset in the regular season, but he grades out as our No. 5 signal caller. Unlike Wilson, Matthew Stafford doesn’t have a ring, but he’s coming off arguably his best NFL season with top-10 finishes both in fantasy points and PFF overall grade.

That’s the good news. The bad news for Stafford is he has to play one of the league’s best defenses on the road in the first round of the playoffs. Seattle has been extremely stingy to opposing quarterbacks this season, allowing over 300 yards passing just three times. Stafford will have his hands full and isn’t an ideal play this week.

Likewise, fantasy players should look to fade the Detroit receivers. Golden Tate projects to see his share of Richard Sherman, who has been his usual self this season, holding opposing receivers to a 51.3-percent catch rate. Anquan Boldin gets the best matchup out of the slot, and may offer some salary relief in DFS contests. Eric Ebron is also a suboptimal play this week. Seattle has given up just three receiving touchdowns to tight ends on the year.

The only Detroit player with any fantasy appeal in this contest is Zach Zenner. The second-year man assumed lead-back duties two weeks ago and has looked very comfortable in that role. He has 32 carries and six catches over that span. Zenner projects to play an every-down role this weekend, making him a budget-friendly volume play regardless of game script.

(Leon Halip/Getty Images)

It’s a very different story on the other side of this contest, with multiple Seahawks in play as strong options this week. Wilson is the chalk play at quarterback in DFS contests with the Lions giving up fantasy points in bunches to quarterbacks. Over the last two weeks Detroit has surrendered seven passing scores.

Doug Baldwin and Jimmy Graham project to be the primary beneficiaries of Wilson’s plus matchup. With Tyler Lockett sidelined, Baldwin is the clear top receiver, and he’s seen double-digit targets in two of his last four games. Better yet, Darius Slay typically doesn’t cover the slot, so don’t expect a shadow coverage situations for Baldwin. Graham is the top tight end play of the week, as Detroit hasn’t fared well against the position for most of the season. He’s very pricey in DFS, though.

Like we have in Oakland, there appears to be a committee in place in the Seattle backfield. Over the last two weeks, Thomas Rawls and Alex Collins have split touches almost 50:50 with Collins holding the slight edge 19-16. Rawls has been generally ineffective since returning from injury with just 3.2 yards per carry. He isn’t a particularly appealing play this week. On the other hand, Collins has flashed some upside, especially as a receiver, and is worth a dart in DFS tournaments.

Miami @ Pittsburgh

Week 18 Quarterback Running Back Wide Receiver Tight End
MIA PIT 28 13.5 5 21.5 + 28 29.7 15 11.9
PIT MIA 9 16.5 22 17.5 12 34.6 8 13.4 +

In the projected highest-scoring game of the week, we have a potentially potent Steelers offense squaring off against a short-handed Miami offense. Ryan Tannehill managed to avoid major injury, but he isn’t quite ready to suit up. Career backup Matt Moore will remain under center for the Dolphins this week.

Moore has fared surprisingly well in relief duty over the last three weeks, tossing eight touchdowns and just three interceptions. He isn’t quite an ideal play, but those playing DFS this week may want to give him a look. The Steelers are a tough matchup, but Moore’s cheap price tag allows for some wiggle room at the other positions.

Following a breakout 2015 campaign where he finished tied for 15th in fantasy scoring, Jarvis Landry managed a solid 16th-place finish among wide receiver this season. In three seasons as a pro, he’s amassed an impressive 288 catches. Seven of them came in his last meeting with the Steelers back in Week 6 when he posted 91 yards. Landry is in play this weekend with the Dolphins figuring to play from behind. DeVante Parker offers some upside, but not as much as teammate Kenny Stills, who has scores in five of his last six games. Stills is an intriguing DFS play thanks to his low salary number throughout the industry.

When the Steelers and Dolphins last met, Jay Ajayi put up an improbable 200-yard game. Can he do it again? Unlikely. But there’s a lot to like about his matchup. Pittsburgh has given up a rushing touchdown to running backs in each of their last four games. With the Dolphins projected to lose, Ajayi is an excellent one-and-done contest play.

(Otto Greule Jr/Getty Images)

While we have Russell Wilson as the best DFS play for the money this week, Ben Roethlisberger is a good bet to be the highest-owner signal caller. As 10-point favorites, the Steelers should have no problem dispatching the Dolphins. However, a brief word of caution. When these teams last played, Roethlisberger managed just 189 yards and one passing score. Of course, that was on the road, and Big Ben is a very different player at home.

Antonio Brown didn’t manage to repeat the 190-plus targets he saw in 2015, but he still finished as a top-three fantasy receiver. With Dolphins CB Byron Maxwell looking very iffy for Sunday, Brown could end up with a plus matchup against Tony Lippett. There isn’t much upside to be had elsewhere in the Pittsburgh receiver corps, and TE Ladarius Green remains in the concussion protocol and looks unlikely to play.

You don’t need to read this article to know that Le’Veon Bell is the top play of the weekend. He’s the chalkiest of chalk, and for darn good reason. Bell averages a massive 28 touches per game and finished as a top-five fantasy running back despite only playing 75 percent of the season. He’s a must-play despite a big DFS price tag. However, those in one-and-done formats will want to save him for at least one more week.

NY Giants @ Green Bay

Week 18 Quarterback Running Back Wide Receiver Tight End
GB NYG 32 11.8 – – 23 17.4 23 31.1 14 12.2
NYG GB 4 17.1 + 25 16.9 2 38.5 + 12 12.8 +

Aaron Rodgers played at an elite level this season, but Eli Manning has more Super Bowl wins. Manning will never be placed in the pantheon of NFL quarterbacks, but he’s come up clutch for two improbable runs to the Lombardi trophy. While a third isn’t likely, the Giants are certainly the top pick to be this year’s dark horse team in the playoffs.

In a word, Manning’s season could best be summed up as “ugly.” He managed to top 4,000 yards for the third consecutive season, but finished a lowly 30th among quarterbacks in PFF grading. The good news is Manning gets an excellent matchup this week. Green Bay hasn’t been able to stop anyone over the last three weeks, giving up 300-plus yards and at least two passing scores to each of the last three signal callers they’ve faced. Manning is a solid one-and-done option this week if you don’t think the Giants can get hot.

Ugly certainly isn’t how we’d describe Odell Beckham Jr.’s season. He set career highs in targets and catches, topped double-digit touchdowns for the third year in a row, and finished top-five among wide receivers in fantasy scoring. He’s arguably the top wide receiver play of the week against Green Bay’s suspect secondary. Sterling Shepard also benefits from this matchup. He’s scored a touchdown in six of his last eight games. Those looking to save some money in DFS may also want to consider Will Tye. He’s dirt cheap and has 13 catches over the last three weeks.

(Al Bello/Getty Images)

At running back, the Giants appear set to continue with the two-back committee of Rashad Jennings and Paul Perkins. Jennings has been the lead back for much of the season, but Perkins has looked like the better player down the stretch. That was especially true in the season finale, when Perkins posted the first 100-yard rushing performance of his pro career. The platoon limits both players’ fantasy value, but Perkins offers decidedly more upside this weekend.

Since 2008, Aaron Rodgers has finished as a top-two fantasy quarterback seven times. You read that right. His remarkable productivity continued this year with his second 40-touchdown season. A quick glance at his matchup shows the dreaded number 32, but don’t be overly concerned. Rodgers is essentially matchup-proof at this point. That being said, his price tag in DFS isn’t ideal if you want to also play Le’Veon Bell along with one or both of Antonio Brown and Odell Beckham Jr.

Jordy Nelson’s 2016 campaign has flown somewhat under the radar and certainly deserves more attention. At 31 years old, Nelson returned from a torn ACL to lead all wide receivers in fantasy points. He ranked fifth in catches (97), sixth in receiving yards (1,257), and first in receiving touchdowns (14).

That being said, Nelson might be a sneaky fade this week with projected shadow coverage coming from Janoris Jenkins, who really revived his career this season. Rodgers has shown in the past that he’ll avoid good coverage to pick on the weaker links. That weak link in the New York secondary could be rookie Eli Apple, who will square off frequently against Davante Adams. Nelson is still a solid play, but Adams represents the potential for more value in DFS contests.

With James Starks still in the concussion protocol, Ty Montgomery is expected to remain in the lead-back role. Since lighting up the Bears in Week 15, Montgomery has cooled significantly. Last week, the Packers actually gave fullback Aaron Ripkowski more carries than Montgomery. Ripkowski is an interesting DFS tournament dart, but it isn’t wise to expect a repeat of last week’s workload. Montgomery has upside, but his matchup and recent play are less than ideal.

| 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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