High-upside contrarian Wild Card plays
“I don’t imagine you will dispute the fact that at present the stupid people are in an absolutely overwhelming majority all the world over.” – Henrik Ibsen
In my first year playing DFS, the smaller slates were my favorites. I felt like they were easier. There were less variables to consider. They seemed less overwhelming than the bigger slates. However, I was far less successful at playing them than I was the bigger slates. Granted, this was before I had adopted my current, more contrarian, strategy. Each week, I’d play a four-game or six-game slate and I’d just put in my optimal lineup. There were weeks where even if I hit every position but one or two, I would still only barely cash, and there were 60 different people who all had the exact same winning lineup.
It wasn’t until I started playing more contrarian that I finally started having more success in the smaller slates. I’d build out a core of players I loved regardless of ownership and then I’d build out lineups inserting one-to-three contrarian plays into each. This made my lineup much more unique. Having the same lineup as 60 other DFS players, even if it hit, doesn’t offer that much. If a player with an ownership percentage at 15-percent-or-lower hits, this gives you a huge edge over a large majority of the field. Or, if a player rostered at 50-percent-or-more (not unreasonable to see in these smaller slates) underwhelms, this gives you a tremendous edge as well.
Just as we’ve done all regular season, our first step is to identify the chalk, and our second step is coming up with strategic pivots off of the chalk and/or finding high-upside plays we think are severely under-owned. This week, the main chalk projects to be: Ben Roethlisberger, Russell Wilson, Adrian Peterson, Antonio Brown, Doug Baldwin, and Jordan Reed.
A.J. McCarron – Houston, Seattle, Minnesota, Green Bay, and Kansas City all rank among our top-10 highest-graded teams in pass coverage. Washington ranks 28th, but we expect Aaron Rodgers to be one of the more highly-owned quarterbacks on this slate. Pittsburgh, meanwhile, ranks ninth-worst overall and has allowed the 11th-most fantasy points to opposing quarterbacks this season.
McCarron is a back-up quarterback who lucked into a starting role when the 10-2 Bengals lost Andy Dalton to a broken thumb in Week 14 against the Steelers. In that game, McCarron didn’t get his first snap until the second quarter, and yet he managed to put up 18 points on the Steelers’ inept pass defense. With A.J. Green and Tyler Eifert both back and finally healthy, McCarron as one of the cheapest and likely lowest-owned quarterbacks on the slate, makes for a fine play.
Teddy Bridgewater – Bridgewater has, arguably, the toughest matchup this week. He has unusually small hands. He’s expected to be playing in sub-zero temperatures. Quarterbacks with small hands typically have a harder time gripping the ball in colder games, and tend not to play as well as quarterbacks with larger lands. Bridgewater has only scored over 23 points once this season. All that being said, I still love Bridgewater as a contrarian play this weekend.
Bridgewater will easily be the lowest-owned quarterback on this slate. In a week where, outside of McCarron, every quarterback has a fairly tough matchup, it’s not hard to imagine a scenario where each quarterback disappoints. If Bridgewater and the players you’d be stacking him with outperform their ownership and projections, you’d have a massive edge. He’s not without any upside whatsoever, however, as just three weeks ago, he put up 32.9 points against Chicago at home.
In a week where the only big name at running back is Adrian Peterson, Bridgewater makes a ton of sense. Peterson actually has a tough matchup against a Seattle run defense that ranks first in the league. Due to Seattle’s stout run defense, and with Russell Wilson playing on fire, the Vikings may be forced to throw the ball. If that’s the case, Bridgewater makes for an excellent pivot play off of the massively-owned Peterson.
Fitzgerald Toussaint – Toussaint is easily my favorite play at the running back position this week. I suspect he goes very low-owned for multiple reasons. First, no one has ever heard of him. Second, on Thursday, it was released that Toussaint and Jordan Todman have been splitting first team carries in practice all week. While it may look like both running backs will be in a timeshare, I’m prepared to wager multiple shares that that will not be the case. Steelers’ OC Todd Haley said on Friday, he “expects Toussaint to be the guy” this Saturday against the Bengals – and I do too.
Pittsburgh seems to be one of the few teams to not use a committee with their running backs. Steelers’ starting running backs averaged 92.5 percent of the teams’ snaps on a per-game basis this season. While that could change this week, the upside Toussaint offers if that is not the case is tremendous. In games he started, Le’Veon Bell was the No. 5 overall fantasy running back. Among all of the weeks in which DeAngelo Williams started and finished games, at 32-years-of-age, he was the No. 1 overall fantasy running back. It seems clear the starting running back role for the Steelers is a highly lucrative position for fantasy owners. I’ll take multiple stabs at Toussaint given his price, projected-ownership, and the leverage he gives you off of the suspected massively-owned Pittsburgh passing attack.
Pierre Thomas – Another guy no one is talking about is Washington’s Thomas. With Matt Jones likely out for Sunday’s game, I like Thomas’ chances of taking over the role. He has out-snapped and outplayed Chris Thompson over the last two weeks and looks like a very sneaky play in a game that Vegas seems to suspect will be a high-scoring shootout. Over the last two games, Thomas has 11 attempts, 52 yards, 10 targets, eight receptions, and 72 receiving yards. An added benefit of playing Toussaint and Thomas, outside of their super-low price and ownership, is that both running backs should have “fresh legs” going up against beat up and worn down defenses. Thomas could make for a great contrarian addition to your Rodgers and Cousins lineups.
Jermaine Kearse – This season, Kearse ranks second on the team in red zone targets. Over the last four weeks, he has the second-most targets (24), the second-most receptions (20), and the second-most yards (256) on the team. With so many DFS players flocking to the higher-priced Doug Baldwin and Tyler Lockett, I like Kearse’s chances of outscoring at least one of them. Outside of his impressive numbers as of late, Kearse also has the added benefit of having the most attractive matchup of any Seattle receiver.
Minnesota’s top cornerback is their slot corner, Captain Munnerlyn, who ranked as our No. 15 corner overall (out of 118 qualifiers). Baldwin, who runs 83 percent of his routes from the slot, should then be downgraded despite his Week 13 success against the Vikings. The biggest weakness in Minnesota’s secondary is Xavier Rhodes, who ranked as our No. 72-graded corner during the regular season. Rhodes is also our fifth-lowest graded corner on this weekend’s slate. Kearse lines up to Baldwin’s left on 52 percent of his routes, while Rhodes has covered that receiver on roughly 85 percent of his routes.
Markus Wheaton – I expect Antonio Brown to be massively-owned, and, despite his recent disappointments, I expect the same with Martavis Bryant. I feel Wheaton, meanwhile, should again go low-owned despite his recent production. Since Week 12, he ranks as fantasy’s No. 15 wideout. During that time, Wheaton has 28 receptions, 476 yards, four touchdowns, and one drop. Meanwhile, Bryant has 28 receptions, 325 yards, a touchdown, and eight drops.
The narrative all over the internet has been that now that Roethlisberger has “called Bryant out,” he’s finally going to get his act together for a big game. I’m not buying it. I don’t think he’ll be low-owned, and I don’t see why Roethlisberger will force-feed him the ball in a do-or-die game after getting benched for sloppy route running in their last do-or-die game. Since Week 12, Roethlisberger has a 106.8 QB Rating when targeting Wheaton, a 95.0 QB Rating when targeting Brown, and a QB Rating of only 67.1 when targeting Bryant. Wheaton makes for an inexpensive, low-owned contrarian pivot off of Bryant and Brown.
Heath Miller – With everyone and their mother playing Jordan Reed and Antonio Brown, I like the idea of going contrarian on both with Miller. Brown has seemingly struggled against the Bengals, averaging just 6.5 receptions and 67 yards against them this year. Since Week 2, outside of two games, the most targets Miller saw were seven, the most receptions he’s had were five, and the most yards he’s had were 49. However, he’s been an entirely different player against the Bengals. In two matchups with Cincinnati, he had 23 targets, 20 receptions, and 171 yards – good for 18.5 fantasy points per game.
Tyler Eifert – On such a small slate, and with Reed potentially ending up as the most-owned player, I think it’s fair to say any other tight end is contrarian this week. In 14 games, Eifert has finished among the top-three highest-scoring tight ends four times. He has converted seven of his eight targets inside the 10 yard line and has four multiple-touchdown games, which leads all tight ends. Of all the teams on this slate, the Steelers have given up the most fantasy points to tight ends. Eifert is likely the best bet to outscore Reed this weekend, and he makes for a strong contrarian play.