Contrarian plays for Championship Weekend
“How lucky I am to have something that makes saying goodbye so hard.” – Winnie-The-Pooh, A.A. Milne
Well, it looks like this is our last article of the season. I’m really going to miss playing NFL DFS and I’m going to miss writing this column each week. I’m fairly bad at saying goodbyes, so I’ll just skip all of that sentimental stuff and go straight to what you’re here for.
Last week we talked about the odd coincidence that so many of the best players in DFS came from either poker or personal finance backgrounds. Last week, a former Poker Pro, Aaron Jones, won $5 million in the DraftKings Fantasy Football World Championship. A few days after winning, he went on reddit to discuss the victory. He discussed his strategy for taking down the $5 million prize. He was behind on the leader, MaxDalury, heading into last week, so he decided to adopt a contrarian strategy to give himself more upside. He had a feeling the front runner would play Denver’s defense and David Johnson. So, he faded both and played Arizona’s defense as well as a few other players that correlated well with the David Johnson/Denver fade.
Just like what Jones managed to do successfully last week, we’re going to try to do the same with this week’s short playoff slate. My strategy heading into this week is fairly simple. On sites that offer a late-swap feature, I’m going to attempt to use it as often as I can. On these sites, I’m going to make multiple lineups with plenty of diversity. The first game will then have a massive impact on all of my lineups.
If say, on one of my lineups, I took a homerun swing on Amendola and it didn’t work out, then I’m going to quickly edit that lineup and throw in some more contrarian low-owned plays. This gives my lineup, that was looking anywhere from ugly to dead-in-the-water, some much needed upside. On my lineups that hit on that first game, I’ll play it safer and lean heavier on the chalk in the second game. In the first game, I’m mostly just casting a wide net, and in the second I’m adding upside where necessary. On sites that do not offer the late-swap feature, I will be sprinkling in one or two contrarian plays per each lineup.
Peyton Manning – Cam Newton will likely be the highest-owned quarterback on this week’s slate. After him, but not by much, will be Tom Brady and then Carson Palmer. Manning is at the bottom of pretty much everyone’s projections, but he’s also the cheapest option and the only one you can get at a low-ownership percentage. Manning also has the benefit of having the only favorable matchup this week. The Patriots allowed the 17th-most fantasy points per game to opposing quarterbacks this regular season.
While that might not seem like much, every other defense on this week’s slate ranked in the bottom-10 in fantasy points allowed to opposing quarterbacks. The Cardinals gave up the 10th-fewest, the Panthers gave up the fourth-fewest, and the Broncos gave up the fewest fantasy points to opposing quarterbacks during the regular season. While Manning seemed to struggle last week, completing only 21 of 37 for 222 yards, he also got a bit unlucky with six total drops from his receivers. If Manning exceeds expectations this week, at a low price and ownership percentage, it could give you a massive edge on the competition.
James White – There were only seven total rushing attempts by the Patriots’ running backs in last week’s game. While they were clearly limited on the ground, they amassed a combined five targets for four receptions and 38 yards in the passing game. As we’ve seen earlier in the season, the Patriots have had no problem abandoning the run against teams with a top-rated run defense. It seems that’s exactly what they did last week against the Kansas City Chiefs, our No. 3-graded run defense. Against the Jets, our No. 2-graded run defense, in Week 7, New England backs combined for only five rushing attempts. Against the Broncos (our No. 1-graded run defense), in Week 12, the Patriots had only 16 total rushing attempts as a team, but, through the air, Patriots running backs had nine targets, six receptions, 89 yards, and a touchdown.
Belichick may be inclined to adopt a similar strategy again this week. If that’s the case, White makes for a very sneaky play. He outsnapped Brandon Bolden and Stephen Jackson last week 42 to (a combined) 21. While he was only targeted three times, catching two passes for 39 yards, he’s showed earlier in the season he’s always a threat to break loose for a big play. Despite a lowly 2.4 aDOT, on 47 targets, White has seven passing plays of 20 yards or more, and he ranks fourth among running backs in yards per route run. In the regular season, the Broncos, meanwhile, have given up the eighth-most receptions (96) and the fifth-most passing touchdowns (5) to opposing running backs.
Devin Funchess – Last Thursday, head coach of the Panthers, Ron Rivera, said that Funchess could be his “X-factor” for the playoffs. Unfortunately, come game-time, it appeared his actions did not match his words. Funchess played on only 34 percent of the snaps on Sunday after playing on 85 percent of the snaps in Week 17, when Ted Ginn Jr. was absent. In that game, Funchess caught seven of eight targets for 120 receiving yards and a touchdown, leading receivers in all categories.
Funchess had struggled mightily during the first eight weeks of the season, but had really turned his game around in the second-half. During the first half of the season, Funchess ranked as our No. 87-graded receiver (among 110 qualifying). From Weeks 9 to 17, Funchess graded out as our No. 34 receiver (among 113 qualifying). Given his limited snap count in last week’s contest, it’s hard to count on Funchess for guaranteed production, but he makes for a strong GPP-play. He’ll be lower-owned compared to other wide receivers, he has a high-ceiling (ranks 15th among receivers on a points-per-snap basis since Week 9), and because he plays in the night game he makes for a great candidate to use the late-swap feature on if we’re looking for upside.
Greg Olsen & Rob Gronkowski – Pretty much any tight end who is not Gronkowski or Olsen would make a terrific contrarian play. Unfortunately, picking between Vernon Davis, Owen Daniels, Virgil Green, Jermaine Gresham, and Darren Fells appears to be something of a fool’s errand. Since Week 12, all of these tight ends combined for only one touchdown and just two games with sixty receiving yards or more. Rather, my preferred method of going contrarian at the tight end position is to roster both Gronkowksi and Olsen. I won’t be doing this on every lineup, but when the far majority of the field will have only one of either option, rostering both gives you a unique roster construction and an added way of setting yourself apart from the rest of the field.