News & Analysis

Previewing the Divisional Round for fantasy

By Jeff Ratcliffe
Jan 12, 2018

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Dec 3, 2017; Atlanta, GA, USA; Minnesota Vikings quarterback Case Keenum (7) reacts after a first down in the fourth quarter against the Atlanta Falcons at Mercedes-Benz Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Jason Getz-USA TODAY Sports

With so few options for fantasy players this weekend, it’s time for an in-depth look at each of this weekend’s games for the purposes of fantasy and breaks down just who you want in your daily and one-and-done leagues.

Atlanta @ Philadelphia

Week 19 Quarterback Running Back Wide Receiver Tight End
Tm Opp Rk PPG MU Rk PPG MU Rk PPG MU Rk PPG MU
ATL PHI 23 13.9 29 18.4 10 31.7 17 10.8
PHI ATL 9 15.8 16 21.9 18 29.0 20 10.4

For much of the season, Philadelphia appeared to be on the fast track to the Super Bowl, but things changed quickly after Carson Wentz tore his ACL. The Falcons are coming off a Super Bowl run of their own, but there was an obvious regression on the offensive side of the ball with former offensive coordinator Kyle Shanahan out of the mix.

Perhaps the most notable falloff from last season was with Matt Ryan. After tossing a career-high 38 touchdowns in 2016, Ryan managed just 20 in the regular season. While the numbers weren’t as impressive, don’t be fooled into thinking that he played poorly. Ryan had a strong season and graded out as our No. 3 signal-caller. However, the question is whether he’ll make for a strong fantasy option this week. The Eagles are most exploitable in the secondary, and did allow three passing scores to four opposing quarterbacks this season. The being said, Ryan didn’t throw for more than two scores in any game this season, and only tossed two touchdowns five times. Ryan’s limited upside makes him a suboptimal play in DFS, but he’s a slightly more intriguing option on DraftKings where he’s cheaply priced at $5,700.

Julio Jones comes at a premium price in DFS this week ($8,800 FD, $7,900 DK). Only Antonio Brown is more expensive. Jones hasn’t been the most consistent fantasy option, but his ceiling is enormous and he’s coming off a strong performance in the Wild Card round, where he was one of just four wide receivers to see double-digit targets. Jones is very much in play in DFS this week, despite his robust price tag. Those searching for value may want to consider Mohamed Sanu ($5,800 FD, $5,700 DK). While Sanu does offer a high floor, his ceiling is limited — he has not topped 100 receiving yards since Week 6 of the 2014 season.

Philadelphia allowed the fewest rushing yards and only three teams allowed fewer fantasy points to running backs this season. That’s bad news for Devonta Freeman. Despite his reasonable price tag ($7,200 FD, $5,900 DK), Freeman isn’t the best DFS option this week. He’s only worth minimal exposure in GPPs.

After looking good in his debut as the starter in Week 15, Nick Foles struggled mightily against the Raiders in Week 16. In that outing, Foles completed just 50 percent of his throws and averaged just 4.3 yards per attempt. As expected, Foles is dirt cheap in DFS ($7,200 FD, $5,200 DK), but it isn’t wise to trust him. The same advice goes for one-and-done formats.

Unfortunately, Foles under center essentially takes Alshon Jeffery and Nelson Agholor out of play. However, Zach Ertz is still an option. Even with Foles playing poorly, Ertz still managed nine catches for 81 yards in Week 16. Ertz is the second-most expensive tight end in DFS ($7,200 FD, $5,800 DK), but he’s worth strong consideration. He’s also arguably the top one-and-done tight end this week.

The Eagles never fully unleashed Jay Ajayi in the regular season, but his workload did increase down the stretch with double-digit carries in each of his last three games. Ajayi won’t cost you much in DFS ($6,900 FD, $4,600 DK), which makes him a tempting option.

Tennessee @ New England

Week 19 Quarterback Running Back Wide Receiver Tight End
Tm Opp Rk PPG MU Rk PPG MU Rk PPG MU Rk PPG MU
NE TEN 8 15.8 21 21.5 7 32.0 11 11.7
TEN NE 7 16.1 + 12 22.4 3 34.7 + 21 10.0

The Titans are riding high after their improbable come-from-behind victory over the Chiefs in the Wild Card round. Of course, Tennessee has a tall task ahead of them in this contest having to go on the road to face the defending Super Bowl champions.

Marcus Mariota accomplished the rare feat of throwing a touchdown to himself last week. He ended up posting a strong fantasy line thanks largely to that fluke play, but wasn’t particularly effective for most of the day. However, he showed that he can add points with his legs. That dual-threat ability places him in play as a fantasy option this week in a contest where the Titans are likely to be playing catchup. Mariota is one of the more interesting discount DFS options ($7,500 FD, $5,900 DK) and also warrants serious consideration in one-and-dones.

It’s tough to trust the Titans wide receivers, but if you had to pick one it’s Rishard Matthews. He was a disappointment last week, but Matthews is extremely cheap in DFS ($5,500 FD, $4,500 DK). It won’t take much for him to reach value. Mariota’s favorite target remains Delanie Walker, who saw a team-high eight targets in the Wild Card round. Walker is a strong play in all formats this week.

With DeMarco Murray out, expect to see plenty of Derrick Henry again this week. Henry exploded for 191 scrimmage yards and a score against the Chiefs and averages 27 touches per game over the last two weeks. Game script doesn’t figure to be particularly favorable for Henry this week, but he’s still a good bet to see heavy volume. He’s pricey on DraftKings ($7,300), but Henry’s a good value on FanDuel at $6,700. He’s also one of the better running back plays in one-and-dones.

Only three quarterbacks topped 30 touchdown passes this season, and Tom Brady is one of them. However, Brady’s fantasy owners will be quick to tell you that just four of his 32 passing scores came during the fantasy playoffs from Weeks 14 to 16. But this lack of production isn’t the sign of a decline, but rather was the product of the Patriots leaning on the run game. Brady is still very much in play as a DFS option, but he’s going to cost you a pretty penny ($8,800 FD, $7,000 DK). He’s by far the highest-priced quarterback this week, and that may price him out of many lineups. Those in one-and-dones will want to save Brady and the rest of the Patriots.

Brandin Cooks finished the regular season tied for eighth among wide receivers in fantasy scoring, topping 1,000 yards for the third-straight season. Despite the productivity across the season, Cooks was streaky on a week-to-week basis. This volatility needs to be factored in if you’re considering him this week. Rob Gronkowski also topped 1,000 receiving yards this season. The future Hall of Famer is an every-week consideration in DFS, but like Brady, Gronk is very expensive ($8,500 FD, $7,500 DK).

The Patriots run game is a little tricky to navigate this week. Dion Lewis was second among running backs with 289 rushing yards over the final three weeks of the season, but that production came with Rex Burkhead, James White, and Mike Gillislee all banged up. All three backs are listed as questionable for this contest, with Burkhead expected to return, Gillislee expected to be sidelined, and White genuinely questionable. Burkhead’s return means a likely split with Lewis, and Burkhead projects to serve as the short-yardage back. Based on that information, Burkhead actually makes for the better DFS play. He’s $1,200 cheaper than Lewis on FanDuel and $900 cheaper on DraftKings. Burkhead scored six touchdowns from Weeks 12 to 15.

Jacksonville @ Pittsburgh

Week 19 Quarterback Running Back Wide Receiver Tight End
Tm Opp Rk PPG MU Rk PPG MU Rk PPG MU Rk PPG MU
JAX PIT 27 12.0 17 21.7 25 26.4 30 8.9 – –
PIT JAX 32 9.3 – – – 26 19.8 32 23.0 – – 26 9.6  

What a difference a year makes. The Jaguars were a perennial basement dweller over the last several seasons, but they boasted one of the league’s best defensive units and a fairly potent run game in 2017. On the other side of this contest, the Steelers have arguably the league’s most explosive offenses.

Jacksonville dominated both sides of the ball when these two met back in Week 5, but this one could prove to have a very different outcome. Of course, that matchup was the now-infamous five-interception game from Ben Roethlisberger. Big Ben was essentially two different players this season. Over the first eight weeks, he ranked a lackluster 15th among quarterbacks in fantasy scoring. But Roethlisberger was one of the league’s best fantasy options in the final eight weeks of the season, ranking second among signal callers in fantasy scoring. Of course, he faces a rough matchup in this one with the Jags surrendering the fewest fantasy points per game to quarterbacks. Roethlisberger is a risky DFS option, but one with sneaky upside given how he finished the season.

An untimely calf injury sidelined Antonio Brown for the final two weeks of the season, but the elite receiver is on track to return this week. In the Steelers’ previous meeting with Jacksonville, the Jags didn’t use Jalen Ramsey to shadow Brown. That’s likely how they’ll play it again in this contest, but keep in mind that A.J. Bouye played at an elite level on the other side of the field. That being said, Brown amassed 10 catches on 19 targets for 157 yards in that contest. He’s the most expensive wideout of the week in DFS, but is worth a decent amount of exposure.

Those looking to fade Brown but still get a piece of the Steelers passing game should look to JuJu Smith-Schuster. He’s reasonably priced ($7,000 FD, $6,000 DK) and offers a higher floor than teammate Martavis Bryant. He’s also coming off an explosive Week 17 performance where he racked up 143 yards and a score on nine catches and also returned a kick for a score.

Like Brown, Le’Veon Bell is the most expensive option at his position this week. But he’s also worth spending up given his healthy regular season volume. Brown averaged a massive 27 touches per game and was one of just two running backs to top 100 targets. This isn’t the best matchup, but the Jags are more vulnerable to the run than they are to the pass. That means we’re likely to see a ton of Bell this week.

Blake Bortles now has one more playoff win than Andy Dalton and Matthew Stafford. That isn’t going to win him any contests, though, and Bortles is going to have his hands full this week. Much has been made about the Jags pass defense, but the Steelers were no slouches either. Pittsburgh only allowed one quarterback to top three passing scores this season, and held Bortles to 95 yards and zero scores in Week 5. It’s tough to endorse Bortles or his receivers in any format this week.

If Jacksonville is going to have any shot at winning this game, they’re going to have to lean on the run game. Leonard Fournette posted his season-high in rushing yards against the Steelers in Week 5 with 181 to go along with two rushing scores. Of course, that was before a series of nagging injuries that hampered Fournette down the stretch. Despite his dip in productivity over the second half of the season, Fournette is still an interesting DFS option ($7,900 FD, $6,900 DK). He’s also a near must-play in one-and-dones.

New Orleans @ Minnesota

Week 19 Quarterback Running Back Wide Receiver Tight End
Tm Opp Rk PPG MU Rk PPG MU Rk PPG MU Rk PPG MU
MIN NO 22 14.0 22 21.3 16 29.2 32 8.6 – –
NO MIN 30 10.6 – – 32 16.5 – – 22 27.4 29 8.9 – –

In perhaps the most evenly matched contest of the weekend, the Saints travel to Minnesota to face the Vikings. Interestingly, the Vegas line opened at the Vikings -3 ½ and has since moved to -5. That sort of line movement suggests a healthy win for the Vikings, but this should still be a very close contest that is chock full of fantasy value.

Journeyman signal-caller Case Keenum is coming off a breakout season where he not only led the Vikings to the No. 2 seed, but he was also darn good in the process. Keenum posted career bests in essentially every statistical category, but one that really stands out is his 67.6 completion percentage. Only Drew Brees was more efficient this season. Keenum was also a sneaky fantasy option, tying for fourth among quarterbacks in fantasy points over the last eight weeks of the season. This is far from a home run of a matchup for Keenum, but he’s a strong DFS play given his inexpensive price tag ($7,600 FD, $7,000 DK).

Part of Keenum’s value comes from his strong corps of receivers. Adam Thielen finished ninth among receivers with 91 catches and tied for eight at the position in fantasy scoring. Thielen isn’t especially cheap this week ($7,600 FD, $7,600 DK), but he’s one of the top wide receiver plays of the week in DFS. Stefon Diggs is also an upside option, especially on DraftKings where he’s $1,400 cheaper than Thielen. Kyle Rudolph has finished as a top-10 fantasy tight end in each of the last two seasons with a combined 15 touchdowns over that span. Rudolph is a budget-friendly DFS option at $5,900 on FanDuel and $4,700 on DraftKings.

Following Dalvin Cook’s season-ending injury, the Vikings relied on the backfield duo of Latavius Murray and Jerick McKinnon. Murray has handled a major of the early-down work and McKinnon has severed as the passing down option. Unfortunately, that distribution hasn’t lent itself to much consistency for fantasy purposes. Both backs are worth some DFS exposure, but it isn’t a good idea to overload on either player.

With the run game working, the Saints didn’t need to lean on Brees in the regular season. But the veteran quarterback showed last week that he still has it, passing for 376 yards and two scores in the Saints’ win over the Panthers. This is a much more challenging matchup for Brees, as the Vikings defense allowed the third-fewest fantasy points per game to quarterbacks. Over the final seven weeks of the regular season, Minnesota surrendered just three passing scores. The matchup and Brees’ expensive price tag ($8,100 FD, $6,300 DK) make him an unappealing DFS option. He could be considered in one-and-dones if you believe the Saints won’t win.

While Brees isn’t the best option, Michael Thomas is very intriguing due to his slightly discounted price ($8,200 FD, $7,200 DK). Thomas will likely see a shadow from Xavier Rhodes, which was typically a bad thing for receivers this season. That being said, it isn’t an unbeatable matchup, as Marvin Jones scored two touchdowns in Rhodes’ coverage on Thanksgiving.

After a historic regular season, the New Orleans backs did a whole lot of nothing last week. Mark Ingram and Alvin Kamara combined for 45 yards on 19 carries and an additional 23 yards on two catches. Things aren’t looking that great for this backfield again this week, as the Vikings were the worst fantasy matchup for running backs this year. It’s tough to get behind playing either Saints back in DFS, especially Kamara due to his high price. However, their upside is worth a little bit of exposure in GPPs.

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