Divisional Round FanDuel GPP plays
The Divisional Round slate appeared, at first glance, juicier than last week’s dud. Yet, once we get past the influx of sexy names, it’s not all that much better. We still don’t have a reliable projected total for the Steelers-Broncos game, but it’s been set at 40 in some spots. That would bring this week’s combined over/under to 176 points. The Wild Card round was 173, and it wound up totaling 136 points.
On a four-game slate, we will eat more chalk than we are used to. We are mainly limited to differentiating our lineups via unique construction – for instance, leaving salary on the table or ignoring negative correlation “rules.” Another route, and one that I will take this week, is to focus on a game that will generally be lower-owned. It ties into a “next-most-likely scenario” means of lineup differentiation.
The Packers-Cardinals matchup will have gridlocked traffic. It features the highest over/under by a good margin (50) and is chock-full of big names. There is worthwhile chalk to play in that game, and fading it entirely is overly aggressive. As of this minute, the Steelers-Broncos game offers more questions than answers, and unless Mister Myagi is on Pittsburgh’s payroll, it won’t sniff their 61-point Week 15 barnburner.
As detailed in this week’s Snaps and Pace, the Chiefs-Patriots game will be hurting for play volume and, most likely, points. It currently doesn’t appear that weather will be a factor, but the injury status of several key weapons on both offenses will. That leaves the Seahawks-Panthers matchup as likely-enough to produce fantasy goodness, at reduced ownership levels, to use as a foundation when constructing lineups.
On to the Divisional Round FanDuel tournament plays.
QB Cam Newton
Carolina Panthers, $8,700 (-$400 from Week 17)
Newton averaged more fantasy points at home, in part, due to success running the no-huddle and the Panthers deploying it on 31 percent of snaps (versus eight-percent on the road). He finished as the top-scoring fantasy quarterback three times in his last four home games and averaged 26.99 FanDuel points – more than three-times his current salary – when in Carolina. Jonathan Stewart’s return to relative health is great, but Seattle’s seventh-graded run defense (+47.9) allowed 3.6 yards per carry (fourth-lowest), and 3.0 yards to running backs in the last eight games.
The Seahawks allowed the second-fewest points to quarterbacks this season, but have been beaten by top passers. They have essentially faced five quality quarterbacks, plus Matthew Stafford before he turned his season around. Aaron Rodgers, Andy Dalton, Carson Palmer (in his Week 10 full game), Ben Roethlisberger, and Newton averaged 28 completions on 43.2 attempts for 333.6 yards and 1.8 touchdowns, with two more rushing scores. In a small sample (30 passes), the Seahawks allowed a 109.9 quarterback rating to opponents using the no-huddle – something that Newton is sure to do on Sunday.
Seattle Seahawks, $8,400 (+$200)
Like with Newton, building a lineup based on the Seahawks-Panthers game will position us apart from the Cardinals-centric crowd, as well as gain exposure to a sneakily-high-upside matchup on a slate short of them. Also like Newton – who led all quarterbacks with 132 rushing attempts — Wilson raises his ceiling with his legs. He’s run 106 times, including last week, and scored on the ground only once, compared to Newton’s 10 rushing touchdowns. Last year, Wilson ran 118 times and scored six touchdowns. He had eight rushing attempts for 53 yards against the Panthers back in Week 6.
Wilson averaged 3.4 touchdown passes and 27.88 FanDuel points during his last seven (non-frozen-Minnesota) games, easily surpassing three-times his current cost – something he did on five occasions over that span. He attempted 35.3 passes and 6.4 rushing attempts during those games, and since Week 10, the Seahawks are averaging 67.7 plays per game — which would rank fifth-highest for the season. With the Panthers allowing 70.1 plays per home game, and a thin 1.5-point spread, we could be in for a back-and-forth affair featuring the league’s most dynamic dual-threat quarterbacks.
Arizona Cardinals, $8,500 (+$800)
The big question this week is “to Johnson or not to Johnson?” The better question is what to do if we don’t Johnson? Sure, he is expensive. Yes, paying way up for the highest-owned player of the week is not something we’d prefer. But rostering other running backs against teams led by Johnson feels like bringing a poker visor to a Kangol-fight. With only four games, having a 60-plus-percent-owned player flame out doesn’t automatically torpedo his rosters – especially when alternatives are flawed, and the freed-up salary isn’t as valuable as on a full slate.
Johnson pairs well with Arizona’s blitz-happy defense (48.4 percent of dropbacks; NFL-high) against an offense that hasn’t protected Aaron Rodgers — who’s struggled against extra rushers this year for the first time in his career (-6.1 versus +101.5 career grade against blitzes). In essentially one half of play during the Cardinals’ Week 16 evisceration of the Packers, Johnson piled up 127 total yards and a score. The Packers run defense (+15.7; 16th-best) allowed 4.5 yards per carry (fifth-most), and has little prayer of holding down a running back who earned PFF’s top rushing grade over the last four weeks of the season (+6.1).
RB James White
New England Patriots, $6,500 (+$100)
When venturing into the longer-shot, lighter-owned running backs, White makes for an intriguing play. It’s hard to see the Patriots lining up and hammering away at the Chiefs’ front seven. Their third-ranked run defense (+77.9) allowed the eighth-fewest rushing yards and third-fewest touchdowns. The once-great Steven Jackson is cooked, and New England has negative run blocking grades in five of their last six games, after earning a positive mark in eight of the previous nine contests. They tend to go around sturdy objects, rather than slamming into them – whether it’s with Kevin Faulk, Shane Vereen, or White.
White doesn’t have a huge ceiling, but few running backs do on this slate. He does offer big play potential, with three touchdowns and five receptions of 20-plus yards in his last five games – during which time he is PFF’s highest-graded running back (+9.5) due to a +8.5 passing game mark. With Julian Edelman and Rob Gronkowski both banged-up, but still leaving swaths of uncovered ground in their wake, White will have room to act as Tom Brady’s release valve against a defense that has stiffened their downfield coverage considerably.
RB Eddie Lacy
Green Bay Packers, $6,200 (+$300)
Nobody wants to roster Lacy, and he’s clearly a “next-most-likely scenario” shot. He may even be “next-next-most-likely,” since the Cardinals are favored by a touchdown at home and could beat Green Bay with the run or the pass. But the Packers’ plan last time was to run as much as possible, with eight handoffs out of 11 first quarter plays. Five of the first six were to Lacy, and the Packers were sunk more by penalties – at least in the first quarter – than by ineffectiveness.
Arizona’s run defense is okay, but relatively untested. Their cumulative +15.7 grade (16th-best) can be viewed as low simply due to facing the fifth-fewest rushing attempts, or perhaps because they really are middle-of-the-road. The last five first-string running backs the Cardinals faced averaged 4.6 yards on 72 carries. That includes a 5.0 average by Lacy, plus a 28-yard touchdown catch that beat a blitz. If – and it’s a huge “if” – the Packers keep it close for longer than they did in Week 16, Lacy could be a tournament-winning differentiator in a Seahawks-Panthers-heavy lineup.
Arizona Cardinals, $7,900 (+$500)
Selectively “fading” the Packers-Cardinals game still requires rostering some participants, and like David Johnson, Fitzgerald fits a “next-most-likely” narrative. That less-likely game script results in a closer, lower-scoring game than last time, with more rushing on both sides, and a better Packer pass defense that includes the now-healthy Sam Shields. Fewer big passing plays hurts the chalkier, $1,400-cheaper Michael Floyd – who projects to see the most of Shields’ coverage — and it supports the type of script suited to Fitzgerald’s 8.9-yard average depth of target. Floyd’s aDOT is 16.0 and John Brown’s is 15.3 yards.
Seven of Fitzgerald’s nine touchdowns were scored before Arizona’s Week 9 bye. He averaged 92.6 yards per game through 11 weeks and an average of 48.2 after that point. The Cardinals averaged 33.6 points through Week 11 and 25.5 points since. Fitzgerald saw nearly 10 targets per game through 13 weeks (9.8), but only 5.5 in four games since then. He’s 32-years old and is assumed to be fading. It’s also possible that the Cardinals dialed-back his workload to keep him fresh for a three-game sprint, and realize their offense clicked best when he was most involved.
WR Doug Baldwin
Seattle Seahawks, $7,400 (No Price Change)
Baldwin will be popular due to his relatively affordable price and favorable matchup. But as an excellent route to Wilson exposure — whether we roster the Seahawks’ quarterback or not — he’s worth wearing some chalk. Whichever perimeter receiver is in Josh Norman’s coverage will be virtually eliminated. Seattle has no receiving tight end to speak of, and Luke Kuechly (+17.1 coverage grade; +8.0 ahead of second-best) would erase him if he did exist. Wilson has targeted running backs and fullbacks an average of five times per game since Marshawn Lynch went down.
Aside from his rushing stats, the lion’s share of Wilson’s production will flow through Baldwin. The last time Baldwin faced the Panthers, he only saw four targets. But that was before Seattle began averaging 32 points, running 67.7 snaps, and Baldwin started seeing just under eight targets per game. He has 12 touchdowns in those eight games, while averaging 21 FanDuel points. Injuries to two of their top three cornerbacks will force Carolina to deploy the past-his-prime Cortland Finnegan against Baldwin for the vast majority of his routes.
Carolina Panthers, $5,300 (No Price Change)
Funchess is one of several “punt” wideouts who — if we’re making multiple lineups – can be mixed into the chalky base we’re building upon. That group also includes Jared Abbrederis of the Packers ($4,900), Chris Conley of the Chiefs ($4,800), and – although at $6,200, he doesn’t exactly qualify as a punt – Seattle’s Tyler Lockett. He’ll be low-owned due to justifiable fear of Josh Norman, but Lockett lines up all over – including in the slot 34-percent of the time – and is a threat to score anytime he touches it. As part of a Seahawks-Panthers game stack, Lockett remains in play.
Funchess is in the same boat. Fear of Richard Sherman, as well as questions about his playing time if Ted Ginn is active (Ginn is listed as questionable), will keep his ownership rate low. But in a stack with Newton and Greg Olsen, he offers touchdown-scoring upside and lineup-differentiating value. Abbrederis will be thrust into a chain-moving role for the Packers, and, with a favorable matchup in the slot against Jerraud Powers (-4.6 coverage grade; 79th of 118 qualifying cornerbacks), should meet value without too much trouble.
TE Greg Olsen
Carolina Panthers, $6,500 (-$100)
With tight end targets extremely limited, Olsen won’t be lightly owned. He will get plenty of attention as the ideal pairing for Newton, he already had success against Seattle this season, and the Seahawks allowing tight end production is no secret. But with Gronkowski again an option, and Travis Kelce coming off of his best game since Week 1 — the only double-digit-target outing of his career – Olsen will see some of his ownership syphoned away. Or at least enough of it to make rostering him palatable as a key component of a Panthers-heavy strategy.
Olsen’s seven catches on 11 targets, for 131 yards and a 26-yard touchdown against Earl Thomas, produced the most FanDuel points (22.6) allowed to a tight end by the Seahawks – who gave up the ninth-most points to the position. While it’s been nearly two months since they surrendered a significant stat line to a tight end, they haven’t faced any legitimate pass-catchers other than Gary Barnidge (who scored a touchdown). Olsen is PFF’s second-best receiving tight end of 2015 (+18.9), and is this week’s best mix of price and projection.
TE Heath Miller
Pittsburgh Steelers, $5,400 (+$300)
If we aren’t playing Olsen, don’t want to risk an injured-in-multiple-places Gronkowski, and prefer to pass on Kelce against the sixth-stingiest tight end defense in a low-volume matchup against a team that excels in erasing opponents’ top option — then Miller is our man! If that doesn’t sound like a ringing endorsement, it’s probably because it isn’t. But after the big-three names, we are essentially hoping for a random touchdown from whichever punt tight end we choose. At least with Miller, there will be target volume to construct a floor upon which we can pray for that touchdown.
With Antonio Brown sidelined, and Pittsburgh’s perimeter receivers facing daunting coverage matchups, Miller moves up their target totem pole. With Roethlisberger’s arm strength in serious question, Miller’s meager route depth (5.8-yard aDOT; 58th of 69 qualifying tight ends) puts him in his quarterback’s potentially-diminished range. Denver allowed the 12th-most fantasy points to tight ends, and while that isn’t overly compelling, it sure sounds better than the 32nd-most points they allowed wideouts.
Pat Thorman is a Lead Writer for PFF Fantasy. You can follow him on Twitter at @Pat_Thorman