Conference Championship optimal DFS lineups
This is a look at my optimal tournament lineup for Conference Championship weekend in DFS. As I will every week, I’ll remind you that it’s important to remember some of the subtle differences between daily fantasy and other types of fantasy football, as well as the differences between DFS game types. Daily fantasy operates under a budget, so the relative value a player offers at his respective price is just as important as his raw statistical production when constructing lineups. As far as cash games vs. tournaments, remember that 50/50s and Double Ups generally have a lower cash line while tournaments will require a unique and high-scoring lineup, so choose the ceilings and floors of your players accordingly.
With just two games on this slate, it’s hard to go very contrarian when multiple players are likely going to be higher than 50 percent owned. As a result, it’s more important than ever to be aware of who is the chalk and carefully choose where to differentiate yourself. This week, DraftKings’ pricing and a historically favorable matchup for Tom Brady against the Steelers has steered me toward a New England stack brought back around by Antonio Brown.
QB: Tom Brady, New England Patriots ($7,100)
This selection has a lot to do with price, as Brady offers a discount relative to Aaron Rodgers and Matt Ryan. This makes sense when looking at the Vegas over/unders of the Green Bay-Atlanta game (61) compared to New England-Pittsburgh (51), but when factoring in the lines the Patriots actually have a similar implied team total (28) to the Packers. Given Brady’s history against the Steelers, I’ll gladly take the savings he provides to allocate elsewhere. In 12 career games (including playoffs) against Pittsburgh, Brady has put up a 27:3 touchdown:interception ratio. Digging deeper, in six games against Mike Tomlin-coached Steelers teams, Brady has a 19:0 ratio with an average of 315 yards per game.
RB: Tevin Coleman, Atlanta Falcons ($4,800)
Lost in the tremendous game that Devonta Freeman had last week was the fact that Coleman nearly met 4x value himself when he put up 57 yards on 11 carries (5.2 YPC) and reeled in three of four targets for 22 yards and a touchdown. He has now averaged just over 13 touches per game over the Falcons’ last four games, finding the end zone three times during that stretch. Coleman has kept pace with Freeman in the touchdown department all season, scoring 12 to Freeman’s 14. Based on their average DK output, Coleman offers a better point-to-dollar ratio than Freeman this week. With just about six realistic running back options on the board period, Coleman is easily the best “backup” running back in a week where his team has the highest implied team total.
RB: Ty Montgomery, Green Bay Packers ($5,600)
Montgomery was the top running back last week, parlaying 11 carries into 47 yards (4.3 YPC) and two touchdowns while catching all six of his targets for another 34 yards and playing over 77 percent of the team’s snaps. The six targets were a season-high (at least since he’s been a full-time running back), and he should stay actively involved in the passing game with the Green Bay wide receivers even more banged up this week than last. The Falcons are among the lowest teams in the league in terms of blitz percentage, meaning Montgomery should be available often as a checkdown option for Rodgers. He brings double-digit carries and touchdown upside to the table at a reasonable price against an Atlanta team that allowed the fifth-most fantasy points in the league to opposing running backs this year.
WR: Antonio Brown, Pittsburgh Steelers ($8,800)
As always, Brown is a great play in all formats no matter the matchup. While Bill Belichick is known for taking away his opponent’s biggest weapon, if recent history is any indication Brown will be allowed to get his (statistically) while the Patriots play bend-but-don’t-break defense. In his last two games against New England — he was shadowed by Malcolm Butler both times — Brown has put up nine receptions for 133 yards (14.8 YPR) and a touchdown on 11 targets and seven receptions for 106 yards (15.1 YPR) on 11 targets. At his second-lowest price of the season on DK, he brings both an immense floor and upside without greatly hindering your salary cap.
WR: Randall Cobb, Green Bay Packers ($5,900)
Cobb is pretty much the last man standing among Green Bay wide receivers. Jordy Nelson appears to be a long shot at best to play with broken ribs, and Davante Adams and Geronimo Allison have missed two straight days of practice with lingering injuries. At $700 cheaper, Cobb is the easy choice for me over Adams. Cobb and Jared Cook are the only healthy options in the Packers’ passing game, meaning Cobb should continue to see high volume after garnering 15 targets in the last two weeks. Atlanta has been vulnerable to slot receivers, giving Cobb huge upside in what should be a shootout.
WR: Taylor Gabriel, Atlanta Falcons ($4,900)
With the highest implied team total of the week, having an Atlanta pass-catcher in your lineup seems like a must. There is some uncertainty among those receivers given the injury status of Julio Jones, who despite coming off a bye played a season-low 59.2 percent of Atlanta’s snaps. Just as interesting as his snap percentage was his 7.9-yard average depth of target from that game, which is minuscule compared to his 14.5-yard aDOT in the regular season. The Falcons were not only limiting his reps, but protecting him by feeding him targets near the line of scrimmage and not exposing him downfield. If that continues, it opens up a great opportunity for Gabriel, who has shown an ability to make big plays downfield. I’ll take his upside over Mohamed Sanu’s ($4,500) in tournaments.
TE: Martellus Bennett ($3,300)
Even at a premium price, Jared Cook is far and away the best play at the tight end position, guaranteeing high ownership on a slate where even the smallest bit of differentiation could have a big impact relative to the field. While it’s necessary to swallow some chalk on such a slate, Bennett is an intriguing option at $1,800 cheaper than Cook, especially in a stack with Brady. Bennett has topped 40 yards in just two of his last nine games, which should keep his ownership low, but he has played at least 65 percent of snaps in each, including last week coming out of the bye when he played 92.8 percent. The Steelers have been in the bottom half of the league in terms of fantasy points allowed to tight ends all year, and they have been hit especially hard by the position in recent weeks, having allowed seventh-highest points per game average to the position over the last month. At his price (the lowest it’s been all year), Bennett is well worth the chance that Brady finds him in the end zone after he scored seven touchdowns this season.
Flex: Julian Edelman, New England Patriots ($7,300)
Even independent of stacks with Brady, Edelman has been a stellar play in DK’s full-PPR format ever since Rob Gronkowski went down. He has averaged nearly 13 targets per game over that span, never failing to reach 13 points while eclipsing 20 points in three of those six games. That volume isn’t going anywhere, and since I’m betting on Brady I’ll gladly use my savings elsewhere to pay up and pair him with Edelman as well as Bennett to try and capture the bulk of the scoring potential in the New England passing game, which should have little trouble moving the ball on an inexperienced Pittsburgh secondary.
D/ST: Atlanta Falcons ($2,200)
Once again, the New England D/ST should be the chalk this week, but I’m not sure that the matchup justifies the price discrepancy between them and the other three teams on DK. I would have to totally rebuild the above core (for the worse) if I chose to spend the extra $1,800 from the Falcons to the Patriots. Instead, I’ll take those savings for the other home team playing a hobbled Packers skill position group. It’s obviously still not a great matchup given the way Aaron Rodgers is playing, but Atlanta has 12 sacks, seven interceptions and four fumble recoveries in their last five games.
As has been the case in recent weeks, Le’Veon Bell is more affordable on FanDuel than he is on DraftKings. Montgomery is also cheaper on FD, making him an appealing option on that site as well. The Patriots are much closer to the other D/ST options in salary on FD than on DK, making them much easier chalk to swallow here.
Brady is closer to Rodgers and especially Ryan in salary on Yahoo than the other two sites. That makes Ryan a much more palatable option here. Julio Jones offers a slightly bigger discount on Antonio Brown here than DK or FD, so if you plan on rolling the dice with the banged-up superstar, Yahoo seems like the site to do it on.