Previewing the Super Bowl for fantasy
The journey that started all the way back when free agency opened in March is nearly complete. We have just one more piece to the puzzle. Just 60 minutes remain in the 2016 NFL slate.
Unfortunately, there isn’t a ton of fantasy this week with DFS wrapped up. For those who still have players remaining in one-and-done formats, start everyone. If you have a lot of players remaining, you can always consult my Super Bowl rankings. Otherwise, here’s what to expect on Sunday based on all of the matchup data we’ve accumulated this season.
New England vs. Atlanta
|Week 21||Quarterback||Running Back||Wide Receiver||Tight End|
Offensive football aficionados couldn’t have asked for a better matchup, as we have a future Hall of Famer in Tom Brady squaring off against one of the best signal callers in the league this season in Matt Ryan. With a Vegas over/under of 59 ½, this one should prove to have a lot of scoring, though it should be noted that our projected total for this game is actually 51.2 points.
Atlanta enters Super Bowl LI on the heels of back-to-back blowout wins against the Seahawks and Packers. The Falcons offense was far and away our top-graded unit, averaging 415.8 total yards and a whopping 33.8 points per game in the regular season. A big part of their success can be attributed to Ryan’s ascendant play. He showed flashes of being an elite talent in the past, but never quite put it all together. This season, he did. Ryan finished the regular season second in passing yards (4,944) and second in touchdowns (38). For fantasy purposes, he also took the silver medal, finishing just behind Aaron Rodgers. That’s pretty impressive for a guy who likely wasn’t drafted in your season-long league back in August/September.
Of course, it helps when you have Julio Jones as one of your receivers. Jones finished the regular season second in receiving yards, despite battling injuries and missing two games down the stretch. He’s still limited in practice, but is fully expected to play. The biggest question for many heading into this contest is how will Bill Belichick will cover Jones?
We expect to see a lot of Logan Ryan and potentially some Eric Rowe on Jones with backside help from the safeties and Malcolm Butler on Taylor Gabriel. We’ve seen this sort of coverage out the Pats numerous times during the season. The idea is that Butler locks down the No. 2 in a one-on-one matchup, and the No. 1 is bracketed. Jones will still get his regardless, but the best matchup in this contest might just be Mohamed Sanu. He has nine catches and two scores in the playoffs, and could be a sneaky bet for a strong game.
The Falcons one-two punch at running back proved to be a potent weapon during the regular season, with Devonta Freeman and Tevin Coleman combining for 2,489 scrimmage yards and 24 touchdowns. However, neither is an unstoppable force. Green Bay held the duo to just 71 rushing yards on 25 carries in the Conference Championship, though they were able to add 77 yards on seven catches. This is a tough matchup for the Atlanta backfield, but there’s certainly some upside with both players due to their usage in the passing game.
One the other side of this contest, we have Brady, who at 39 years old is playing arguably the best football of his career. Sure, he struggled a bit in the Divisional Round against the feisty Texans’ pass rush. But overall, Brady was fantastic this season. In 12 regular-season games, he averaged 296.2 yards and 2.3 touchdowns through the air and threw just two interceptions total. Better yet, he faces a Falcons defense that surrendered the most fantasy points per game to opposing quarterbacks in the regular season. Brady should have his way, especially if the Patriots get the run game working early to neutralize the Atlanta pass rush.
Since Rob Gronkowski went down, Brady’s top target has been Julian Edelman. Over the last nine games, Edelman has 103 targets with seven games in double-digits. He also caught at least eight balls in six of those games with four 100-yard performances. Expect Edelman to again see heavy volume on Sunday. Like Edelman, Chris Hogan topped 10 targets in the Conference Championship. Unlike Edelman, that was the first time he did so this season. Hogan was an absolute monster against the Steelers with nine catches on 11 targets for 180 yards and two scores. There’s certainly a chance lightning strikes twice, but based on his performances this season, it isn’t wise to count on another big game. Brady could likely spread the ball around to Malcolm Mitchell, Danny Amendola and Martellus Bennett.
We could also see a run-heavy game plan out of the Patriots. Belichick has done this in the past against inferior defenses, like the Colts in the 2014 Conference Championship. LeGarrette Blount carried the ball 30 times for 148 yards and three scores in that contest. The Falcons graded out 26th against the run in the regular season, giving up a league-high 20 rushing touchdowns. That could mean that we see a lot of Blount with some Dion Lewis sprinkled in as a runner. Lewis will also see his share of targets out of the backfield. So far in the playoffs, Lewis has seen eight targets and James White has seen four.