Divisional Round fantasy preview
Kansas City @ New England
Projected score: NE 22.9 – KC 21.1
In our lowest projected combined score of the week, the Chiefs travel into New England to face the defending Super Bowl champions. There’s isn’t a ton of fantasy value to be had in this game on the Chiefs side of the ball. Alex Smith offers his typical low ceiling, especially against a Patriots defense that only allowed three quarterbacks to throw for more than two passing touchdowns this season. At running back, Spencer Ware was the better of the Kansas City duo in the Wild Card round, though game script was in his favor. Neither he nor Charcandrick West is particularly appealing this week for cash games despite being reasonably priced.
Fortunately, Jeremy Maclin’s injury isn’t as bad as it initially appeared. Unfortunately, it’s a high ankle sprain, and he’s yet to officially practice this week. He sounds unlikely to go, and figures to serve more as a decoy if he does manage to suit up. However, Maclin’s injury bodes extremely well for Travis Kelce, who posted eight catches on 10 targets for 128 yards last week. It’s also a plus matchup, with the Patriots giving up four touchdowns to opposing tight ends over the last five weeks. Kelce is priced below Rob Gronkowski and and Greg Olsen on DraftKings, and he should be strongly considered for cash games this week.
The Patriots enter the Divisional Round slightly healthier with Julian Edelman expected to take the field for the first time since since Week 10. Of course, Edelman’s return bodes well for Tom Brady, but Brady is anything but a safe play. Kansas City’s pass defense poses a challenge for Brady and this Patriots offense. Brady is a much taller task than Brian Hoyer, but the Chiefs have the pass rush and secondary play to hold him in check. Brady should be considered a GPP play only.
Edelman is intriguing for cash games, though his price tag (DK: $7,100, FD: $7,800) is a bit steep. Likewise, Rob Gronkowski (DK: $7,500, FD: $8,300) is never going to be cheap, but the matchup is tempting. Over the last five games of the regular season, the Chiefs yielded the 13th most fantasy points per game to tight ends. If you have the cap room, this may be the week to spend up on Gronkowski provide he’s able to suit up.
At running back, the Patriots will continue to rely on the three-headed committee of Steven Jackson, James White, and Brandon Bolden. Jackson carried the ball 14 times and found the end zone in the Pats’ Week 17 finale, but managed just 35 yards for a meager 2.5 yards per attempt. Despite the potential for volume, Jackson is a low-ceiling play who really needs to score to return value. James White is an intriguing GPP option on DraftKings this week, as he figures to continue to be part of the passing game. However, he’s unlikely to see more that a couple carries and doesn’t project well as a cash game option.
Team defense is very limited this week, and I’m not going to mention every team. However, the Patriots (DK: $3,500, FD: $4,700) do stand out as one of the three cash game options. Those looking for GPP upside may also want to consider a Chiefs defense (DK: $4,000, $4,600) that racked up six scores in the regular season, and flashed major upside in their thrashing of the Texans last week.
Green Bay @ Arizona
Projected score: ARZ 28.5 – GB 21.9
These teams met last back in Week 16 when the Cardinals completely dismantled Green Bay and won handily 38-8. While this contest was just three weeks ago, it’s not fair to expect a similar outcome this weekend. Green Bay got LT Don Barlcay, who gave up four sacks in Week 16, off the field, and their protection of Aaron Rodgers was much improved last week against Washington. That being said, we’ve seen how low Rodgers’ floor can be against the Arizona defense. Rodgers isn’t an ideal cash game play, but he is worth having some exposure in GPPs.
With Davante Adams (knee) banged up and looking unlikely to play, Jared Abbrederis is the next man up. Unlike Adams, Abbrederis is better suited to the slot, which would keep Randall Cobb on the outside in three-wide sets. Our own, Mike Clay, believes this could spell shadow coverage from Patrick Peterson for Cobb. That forecast puts a serious damper on Cobb’s fantasy outlook and all but eliminates him from the cash game radar. In this scenario, James Jones would likely see a lot of Justin Bethel, who Rodgers targeted a whopping 14 times in Week 16. Jones has seen 41 targets over the last four games, and looks to be in store for another heavy volume day. At $6,500 on FanDuel and $4,600 on DraftKings, it’s tough to ignore Jones in cash games this week.
Green Bay split things fairly evenly between Eddie Lacy and James Starks last week, with Lacy playing 27 snaps and Stark on the field for 33 snaps. For much of the day, Starks looked the better runner, but Lacy did reel off his longest run of the season, a 30-yarder, and also found the end zone. The touch distribution again projects to be roughly a 50:50 split, and neither player stands out as a particularly strong DFS option.
On the other side of this competition, there’s plenty of value to be had. Carson Palmer is coming off arguably his best season as a pro, and he faces one of the better matchups of the weekend. To be fair, there are only eight teams left, so everything is relative. Still, both Vegas and our projections favor Arizona by a healthy margin. While the Cardinals do figures to get a lot done on the ground, Palmer offers a high enough floor to be in the mix for cash game consideration.
This week’s anchor play for cash game lineups is David Johnson. Sure, he’s by far the most expensive running back across the industry, but pay that no mind and spend the money. Our projections have Johnson scoring nearly double the fantasy points of the second-highest scoring running back. Of course, those looking to differentiate in GPPs will want to avoid Johnson. His ownership percentage will be through the roof.
Over the last eight games, Michael Floyd has topped 100 yards five times. While he’s only scored six touchdowns on the season, Floyd’s play down the stretch makes him the top option out of the Cardinals receiver corps this weekend. The best part is he’s still $1,400 cheaper than Larry Fitzgerald on DraftKings and FanDuel. Ordinarily, I wouldn’t recommend a wide receiver and running back tandem from the same team in a cash game lineup, but in this short slate, pair Johnson and Floyd makes a lot of sense. From there, it’s close between Fitzgerald and John Brown with the latter offering more upside. Those who want to think outside of the box may want to throw a dart at J.J. Nelson. The rookie hasn’t been heavily used, but he has explosive speed and one of the more likely candidates to get loose for a long score among the lesser owned wide receivers.
Seattle @ Carolina
Projected score: SEA 26.5 – CAR 25.4
Though they sputtered in the sub-zero weather last week, the Seahawks were among the league’s most explosive offenses down the stretch. While Carolina certainly has a potent defense, this Panthers unit did give up 30-plus points twice in their last five points. That leaves open the potential for plenty of points from Russell Wilson and the the Seahawks. Despite a lackluster performance for much of last week, Wilson displayed his uncanny ability to remain calm in the eye on the storm with a standup slide to corral a botched snap that he then chucked for an unlikely first down.
The last time these two teams met was back in Week 6, which was before Wilson’s stretch run where he threw for 25 touchdowns over the last eight games. In that game he threw for 241 yards and a score, adding 53 yards on the ground. Though that’s not a huge performance, this is a reasonably strong matchup against a Panthers team that has yielded the 14th most fantasy points per game to quarterbacks over the last five games. Wilson is among the three quarterbacks who deserve cash game consideration this week.
Marshawn Lynch looked like he was going to get back on the field last week, and then he didn’t. Classic Lynch. There’s no guarantee he suits up this week, but if he does, he’s a worthy pivot away from David Johnson. Carolina yielded strong fantasy days to Devonta Freeman and Rashad Jennings over the last month. Christine Michael will be back in play if Lynch sits again. In that scenario, Michael would be an intriguing cash game play at $6,500 on FanDuel and $4,600 on DraftKings.
We saw an historic run out of Doug Baldwin down the stretch this season, and the veteran receiver managed to find the end zone in the Wild Card Round. We also saw the emergence of Josh Norman into a shutdown corner. The good news is that Baldwin runs primarily out of the slot, and Norman rarely (two percent of the time) covers the slot. Instead, Baldwin will likely see a lot of Cortland Finnegan, who was retired until about a month-and-a-half ago. Advantage: Baldwin. Look for Seattle to attack this weak link in the Panthers defense, and lock Baldwin into cash game lineups. We doubt Norman shadows either Tyler Lockett or Jermaine Kearse, but neither player is ideal in cash game formats and should be reserved for GPPs.
There isn’t a good matchup to be found on the other side of this contest. Over the last five weeks, here’s how each position ranks against the Seahawks in fantasy scoring: quarterback (32nd), running back (32nd), wide receiver (32nd), and tight end (31st). Despite the terrible matchup, Cam Newton is among the rare fantasy performers who are truly matchup independent. He finished first overall among quarterbacks in fantasy scoring this year, and did so with a patchwork receiver corps that lacks a clear No. 1 option. Of course, Newton adds value on the ground, leading all quarterbacks in rushing yards (636) and touchdowns (10). Despite the less than ideal matchup, Newton is worth consideration along with Palmer and Wilson for cash game lineups.
At running back, Jonathan Stewart is practicing in full and expected to play after missing the last three games. In the previous meeting between these two teams, Stewart managed just 78 yards on 20 carries, but did score twice. However, it isn’t wise to read too much into that result. The Seahawks played without MLB Bobby Wagner, which is a huge downgrade for their defense. Wagner is fully healthy for this weekends contest, so Stewart gets a downgrade. He isn’t an ideal cash game play, and should only be considered for GPP lineups.
We don’t expect any shadow situations in this game, which means both Corey Brown and Ted Ginn should see their share of Richard Sherman’s coverage. Truth be told, there really isn’t an ideal matchup to be had for the Carolina receivers. A Newton/Ginn stack has some appeal in GPPs, though that’s likely to be a common play that won’t do much to differentiate a lineup. Devin Funchess has gained some buzz this week following Ron Rivera calling the rookie receiver a potential “X-factor” for the playoffs. This comes following Funchess’ first 100-yard game of the season in Week 17. Funchess is certainly intriguing at his price (DK: $3,400, FD: $5,300), but he’s still the Panther’s fourth receiver. Limited volume and this brutal matchup make Funchess a desperation heave at best for GPPs this week.
When these teams met back in Week 6, Greg Olsen racked up 131 yards and a score on seven catches. But like with Stewart, we need to consider the ripple effect of Wagner not playing. Since that game, no tight end has topped 100 yards and only three have found the end zone. Still, Olsen will see volume in this game and is worth strong consideration in cash game lineups.
While both defenses were strong fantasy options this season, this isn’t the week to play either. The offenses in this contest are among the league’s most potent, and this game projects out as our highest-scoring of the week. Of course, with the potential for a lot of scoring is often value at the kicker position. Both Graham Gano ($4,900) and Steven Haushka ($4,700) are in play at FanDuel.
Pittsburgh @ Denver
Projected score: DEN 25.1 – PIT 20.5
The Steelers narrowly snuck by Cincinnati in one of the strangest playoff games in recent memory, but the damage from this victory has the potential to be far-reaching with both Ben Roethlisberger (shoulder) and Antonio Brown (concussion) dealing with injuries. Roethlisberger looks likely to play, but it’s tough to endorse him if he does. Despite lighting up this defense for 380 yards and three scores back in Week 15, Roethlisberger’s injury could limit the throws he can make. The injury plus the stout Broncos defense takes Roethlisberger out of cash game consideration, and he should only be considered for GPPs as a contrarian play.
The prognosis doesn’t look good for Brown, as he’s in the league concussion protocol and will not play this week. With Brown sidelined, the Steelers will deploy the trio of Martavis Bryant, Markus Wheaton, and Darius Heyward-Bey. The ripple effect of Roethlisberger’s injury negatively impacts the fantasy outlook for all three. None of these guys makes for a strong cash game play, but each is worth GPP exposure in contrarian lineups.
With the news that DeAngelo Williams was spotted in a walking boot and visited a foot specialist, it seems extremely unlikely that the veteran suits up this weekend. That means the Steelers will again turn to the duo of Fitz Toussaint and Jordan Todman. Last week Toussaint out-snapped Todman 49-14, though Todman did get 11 carries. Expect a similar distribution if Williams does in fact sit out. Todman does figure to have enough volume to be DFS relevant this week, but Toussaint is intriguing, especially on DraftKings. He’s just $4,200 this week, and showed ability as a receiver in the Wild Card round. Toussaint should have no problem reaching value at that price and should be considered for cash games.
While Roethlisberger’s injury has a negative effect on the receivers, it may actually help Heath Miller’s value. He’s not going to run after the catch like Gronkowski or Kelce, but Miller knows how to get open in the short and intermediate parts of the field. He’s also seen double-digit targets three times this season. Of course, Miller managed just three catches for 12 yards when these teams last met, but he still has DFS appeal this week. Miller’s ceiling is low, but he’ll save a lot of salary at $3,200 on DraftKings and $5,400 on FanDuel.
After missing six games, Peyton Manning made an Ali-like return to play in Week 17, guiding the Broncos to a win over the Chargers and the No. 1 seed. A bit of hyperbole? Perhaps, but Manning certainly looked solid running the offense and had one of his better performances of the season in that half-game of action. Manning is very interesting because he’s Peyton Manning (all-time great). But he’s also very volatile because he’s Peyton Manning (aging quarterback). The matchup is one of the best this weekend, but Peyton’s inability to drive the ball down field is cause for concern. That being said, his cheap price (DK: $6,000, FD: $7,000) puts Manning in play for GPPs.
Much like the Packers, the Broncos’ running back situation has really evolved into a committee with a close to a 50:50 split in snaps between Ronnie Hillman and C.J. Anderson in each of the last three games. If given a full work load, either player would be worth cash game consideration. But given the platoon and reasonably tough matchup against a strong Steelers run defense, both should be considered for GPPs only.
With Antonio Brown out, Demaryius Thomas is arguably the top wide receiver play this week. While he had a mistake-filled 2015 season where he dropped 12 passes, Thomas still saw 10-plus targets 11 times and was the fourth most-heavily targeted receiver in the regular season. He isn’t cheap (DK: $7,000, FD: $8,100), but Thomas is a worthy cash game option. Emmanuel Sanders is also among the better wide receiver plays this week. Though he lacks Thomas’ ceiling, Sanders may be the better value at $5,800 on DraftKings and $7,700 on FanDuel. He’s also in play for cash games, though it isn’t advisable to use both players in the same lineup.
Defensively, the Broncos really stand out as a strong play this week against an ailing Roethlisberger with no Antonio Brown or DeAngelo Williams. Of course, Denver is going to cost you. They’re the most expensive unit at FanDuel ($5,300) and come in at $3,900 on DraftKings. Despite the price, the Broncos should really anchor cash game lineups.
Jeff Ratcliffe is the Assistant Managing Editor and resident IDP maven and DFS junkie of PFF Fantasy.