10 stats to know for the Divisional Round
Last week we brought you 10 must-know stats for Wild Card weekend, and we’re back at it for the Divisional Round. This is often called the best weekend in football, and it’s hard to argue that point this year. All four matchups are excellent on paper.
But it’s a different story in the world of fantasy football. As the teams get better — and the case could easily be made that the remaining eight teams really were the eight best teams this season — the fantasy matchups get worse. Such is life in the fantasy playoffs.
In any event, we’ve dug through the mounds of data at Pro Football Focus to find 10 must-know stats for the Divisional Round to help you make some tough lineup decisions.
Chiefs at Patriots
Julian Edelman was on pace to finish as the third-highest scoring receiver in PPR leagues this season. Through nine games, Edelman was averaging 21.75 fantasy points per game. That put him on pace for 348 points on the season as a whole, which would have been third to only Antonio Brown (382) and Julio Jones (370).
Edelman is truly an elite fantasy wideout, especially in PPR leagues. The fact that this weekend will mark his first real action since November — and the fact the game is against a stingy Chiefs defense — shouldn’t scare you away. With Brown out for the Steelers, Edelman is arguably the No. 1 fantasy receiver this weekend.
Travis Kelce averaged 7.5 yards after the catch this season, second most among all tight ends who saw at least 45 targets (Rob Gronkowski; 7.6 RAC average). Kelce had a truly up-and-down season, but he has been solid over his last four outings. He has at least six receptions in three of his past four games, capping the streak with a four-catch, 128-yard effort against the Texans in the wild card round. It was his first 100-yard outing since Week 1 (also against the Texans).
With Jeremy Maclin “facing an uphill battle” to play, per NFL.com’s Jeff Darlington, Kelce will become the focal point of Kansas City’s offense. However, that will likely mean additional double teams as Bill Belichick aims to reduce Kelce’s impact, forcing other players to step up.
The net result of these two forces — Maclin’s injury and the (likely) double teams — should result in additional receptions for Kelce, but fewer RAC yards. In PPR leagues, this could end up being a wash — i.e. more touches but fewer yards. As Kansas City’s best threat to score, Kelce remains a decent play, but his ceiling is lower than usual.
Packers at Cardinals
Carson Palmer led all quarterbacks with an average depth of target (aDOT) of 11.3 this season. That’s the highest aDOT of any quarterback who played a full season in the PFF era (dating back to 2007).
For the most part, Green Bay’s cornerbacks are above average when it comes to yards ceded per reception. But the outlier is Damarious Randall, who has given up 15.7 YPC this season, 11th most among all cornerbacks. Per Mike Clay’s WR/CB matchup chart, Randall will draw the speedy John Brown this weekend, who averaged 15.4 YPC this season. It’s a plus matchup for both Brown and Palmer.
James Jones has seen double-digit targets in three straight games. He seems like a lock for another 10-plus target game now that Davante Adams has been ruled out for the Divisional Round. Jones has a subpar catch rate of 57 percent, but he did average 17.8 yards per reception this season, sixth among all wideouts.
Jones is a good play this weekend, as he has a lot working in his favor. He has become a favorite target of Aaron Rodgers (evidenced by the double-digit targets in three straight games), and he will likely be the favorite target against the Cardinals because of Adams’ injury and the fact Randall Cobb should draw Patrick Peterson in coverage.
Seahawks at Panthers
Among running back with 90-plus touches this season, Marshawn Lynch was the most elusive. He forced 37 missed tackles on 124 touches, and he averaged a strong 2.65 yards after contact.
Lynch has declared himself ready to play this weekend, but he’ll need his elusiveness against the stingy Carolina Panthers defense. The data says he’s up to the challenge.
The only question is whether or not Seattle will put the game on Lynch’s shoulders, or if they will continue to lean on their surprisingly good passing attack.
Cam Newton scored 0.73 fantasy points per drop back this season, tops among all quarterbacks by a wide margin. Some may be scared away from Newton because of his tough matchup against the Seahawks this week, but he should still be in plenty of GPP lineups.
As PFF’s Pat Thorman pointed out in his Divisional Round FanDuel GPP plays article: “The Seahawks allowed the second-fewest points to quarterbacks this season, but have been beaten by top passers. They have essentially faced five quality quarterbacks, plus Matthew Stafford before he turned his season around. Aaron Rodgers, Andy Dalton, Carson Palmer (in his Week 10 full game), Ben Roethlisberger, and Newton averaged 28 completions on 43.2 attempts for 333.6 yards and 1.8 touchdowns, with two more rushing scores.”
Steelers at Broncos
Antonio Brown accounted for 46.6 percent of Ben Roethlisberger’s yards this season. When the Broncos and Steelers played each other in late December, Brown accounted for 49.7 percent of Roethlisberger’s passing yards.
In other words, Brown represented a massive, irreplaceable part of Roethlisberger’s statistical output.
The Broncos were the toughest matchup for quarterbacks and wide receivers to face all season long, and Brown was truly the only receiver who had a great game against them — and he required 16 receptions to do it. With the tough matchup, Brown sidelined, Roethlisberger injured, and a running game with all sorts of question marks, the formerly high-flying Steelers offense is suddenly one to steer clear of this weekend.
Peyton Manning scored 0.31 fantasy points per drop back this season, tied for 35th out of 37 quarterbacks (tied with Matt Cassel; ahead of Nick Foles). It’s almost impossible to believe, but that’s the kind of fantasy company Manning kept this season.
To be fair to Manning, Brock Osweiler wasn’t all that much better — he scored 0.40 fantasy points per drop back, ranked 28th. It’s hard to imagine Manning being that bad on Sunday, but it’s also a pipe dream to think he’ll be the Peyton Manning of old. It’s much more likely he’ll simply be old Peyton Manning.
C.J. Anderson and Ronnie Hillman combined for 1,583 rushing yards and 12 touchdowns this season. They racked up those totals on 359 combined carries. From a fantasy perspective, it’s a shame they have to split the backfield, but those are impressive totals nonetheless. With Manning back under center, don’t be surprised if we see a heavy dose of Anderson and Hillman this weekend, making both of them viable fantasy plays — especially since Manning will be dumping it off on check downs.
Rob Gronkowski caught four passes for 87 yards and a touchdown last time he was “limited.” That was in Week 14 against the Houston Texans. The moral of the stat: Even a limited Gronkowski is better than every other tight end in the field. He saw a season-low 62.3 percent of New England’s snaps in that game; he’s usually above 90 percent.