Conference Championships daily fantasy advice: Previewing the week in DFS
With just two games on tap this weekend, DFS players get the shortest possible slate to close out the 2016-2017 NFL season. Your margin for error is slim in cash games and even slimmer in tournaments. In these two-game slates, even having four or five of the top players won’t make your lineup an automatic winner — odds are, at least 40 percent of the field will have those players too.
For the Conference Championship round, most people will likely be fishing in the Green Bay-Atlanta pond. It’s really no wonder why: That game currently has an insane over-under of 61 total points scored. But lost in that noise is the fact the New England-Pittsburgh tilt also has an impressive projected score of 51, which is no joke. In a normal week, that’s a game we’d be attacking.
So whether you’re ready to go all-in on the Green Bay-Atlanta game, or go a bit “contrarian” with New England and Pittsburgh, you can — as usual — start your week of DFS prep here. Below are my early-week musings in DFS for the Conference Championship round.
(Note: I’m providing only DraftKings and FanDuel salaries as I live in Florida, where Yahoo does not operate.)
It’s hard to talk people away from Aaron Rodgers or Matt Ryan this weekend. The game is all but assured to be a shootout, and we’re all expecting at least six touchdowns between the pair of them, with the 300-yard mark virtually guaranteed. Ownership should be relatively even on Rodgers and Ryan, but high for both. We need to monitor their wideout situations over the week: Rodgers’ top option Jordy Nelson is still nursing a rib injury, while Ryan’s top dog Julio Jones reinjured his toe last weekend. I’m inclined to like Rodgers’ ceiling a bit more here, if only because he’s white-hot and has much less potential of running backs stealing touchdowns.
The other game features Tom Brady and Ben Roethlisberger facing off for (surprisingly) only the second time in the playoffs. Big Ben on the road is the risky contrarian play, but I also think Brady is a contrarian play too. He’s coming off easily his worst game of the season, so recency bias will have people off of him, but he still threw for 287 yards and a pair of touchdowns. The Patriots have an implied team total of about 28 points, and Brady has thrown at least two scores in four of his past five games — with a date in Denver as the exception. Brady seems like a safe bet to toss for two-plus touchdowns again this week against a team he has historically had success against. Brady is also the second-cheapest he’s been all year.
Le’Veon Bell is extremely expensive and usually worth it, but in many of my early builds, he’s not making my lineups. One thing that has scared me is Bell’s usage out of the backfield in recent weeks. Over the past three weeks, he has averaged 2.3 receptions and six receiving yards per game. From Weeks 5 to 15, Bell averaged 6.5 receptions and 54.6 receiving yards per game. New England did give up the second-most receptions to running backs this year (102) — and Bell had 10 receptions against them earlier in this season — so I do think he’s more involved in the passing game this week, but his recent dip in usage out of the backfield is still noteworthy. It’s also a difficult draw on the ground, as New England gave up the second-fewest fantasy points to running backs this year, and only gave up a total of two rushing scores from Week 3 on (both of which came in Week 8 against Buffalo).
I really like Ty Montgomery this week in Atlanta. The Falcons gave up a league-high 109 receptions, 870 receiving yards and six touchdowns to running backs this year, and Montgomery is averaging over five targets per game over his last four outings. He has also carried the ball about 10 times per game. Montgomery seems like a safe bet for a minimum of 15 touches, with 20-plus within reach if this game shoots out the way we all expect. At only $5,600 on DraftKings and $6,900 on FanDuel, he’s in play.
LeGarrette Blount is a player you’re going to have to get right this week, and as such, I’m going to pay extremely close attention to reports coming out of New England regarding their expected backfield this weekend. Dion Lewis shined in the Divisional Round while Blount saw a season-low eight attempts. Was it because of Blount’s mysterious illness last week that caused him to miss two practices? Was it because Lewis was clearly feeling it on Saturday night, and the Patriots just fed the hot hand? Was it because the game was much closer than the final score suggests, and New England was never really able to turn to a full ground-and-pound approach? There’s a lot of uncertainty here, but that provides a window of opportunity to buy-low on Blount, who did lead the league in rushing touchdowns this year. Blount is cheaper than Lewis on both DraftKings and FanDuel.
As of now, Julio Jones is expected to play, but I’d be lying if I said his aggravated toe injury didn’t scare me. On the one hand, I’m not alone — which means Jones will assuredly be lower-owned than he otherwise would be (but not low owned, because it’s only a two-game slate). Jones at (relatively) low ownership in a game with a projected final score of 60-plus total points — in the Georgia Dome against the worst secondary in the NFL — seems like a no-brainer. But on the other hand, I am scared for a reason. For such an impressive talent and expensive DFS option, Jones has an abysmal floor. In fact, we saw that floor in Week 8 against the Packers in a game that did net 60-plus total points, when Jones caught just three of five targets for 29 yards. I haven’t made my mind up on Jones yet, but there’s a lot to digest here.
Jones’ teammate, Taylor Gabriel, will be a favorite of mine in tournaments this weekend. He should run about half of his routes against Damarious Randall, who is by far the worst remaining starting cornerback in the playoffs. Gabriel averages 0.51 fantasy points per route run, third among all wideouts playing this weekend — behind only Julio Jones and Antonio Brown. Randall gives up 0.51 points per route run, most among all corners playing this weekend. These puzzle pieces fit.
It’s really hard to go cheap at wideout this week, but Chris Hogan is probably my favorite option under $4,000 on DraftKings. Geronimo Allison is also intriguing in that range, if Jordy Nelson continues to sit. Hogan’s role is more secure, however, and he clearly has some deep-ball rapport with Tom Brady. About one-in-three (31.5 percent) of Hogan’s targets came 20-plus yards down the field this year, which ranks as the highest percentage of deep-ball targets among all receivers playing this weekend not named Sammie Coates, who doesn’t even play anymore.
Jared Cook is easily the best tight end play this week on both DraftKings and FanDuel, which means the end of the world must be nigh. If Jordy Nelson misses time again, Cook is almost a must-start, even as the chalk.
Martellus Bennett is really the only other tight end to consider this week, assuming Ladarius Green remains sidelined with a concussion that has kept him out of commission for the past four games. Bennett caught just one pass for four yards last week, and he has fewer than 40 receiving yards in nine of his past 11 games. He does, however, have three touchdowns in his previous five games. He’s a touchdown-or-bust player, but with such limited option at tight end this week, a touchdown might be enough to make him the highest-scoring player at the position.
Your tight end punt options of the week include Jesse James, Richard Rodgers, Levine Toilolo and Austin Hooper. You can’t really make a serious case for any of them, since a two-catch game would be considered a success. James had a good game last week, which I think will drive more ownership his way than he deserves. Toilolo or Rodgers seem like the best bets out of this bunch to catch a long touchdown, but it’s a total shot-in-the-dark prayer move either way.