Wild Card weekend fantasy preview
Kansas City @ Houston
Projected score: KC 20.6 – HST 19.7
The Chiefs enter this year’s playoffs on heels of an improbable a 10-game win streak. Over that span, Alex Smith ranks 14th in fantasy scoring among quarterbacks, with 1918 passing yards and 14 scores. Perhaps the most underrated aspect to Smith’s game is his ability as a runner. Over the last 11 weeks, only Cam Newtown (411) and Tyrod Taylor (381) have more rushing yards than Smith (378). Smith is worth a look as a GPP punt this week (DK: $5,300, FD: $7,100), but it’s tough to endorse him as a cash game play against a Houston defense that has held opposing quarterbacks to the ninth fewest fantasy points over the last five weeks.
Charcandrick West has been a serviceable replacement following the devastating loss of Jamaal Charles back in Week 5. Since taking over as the starter, West ranks 14th in fantasy scoring, though he sits a very inefficient 47th in fantasy points per opportunity. With the Texans ranking as the second-worst matchup for running backs over the last five weeks, it’s wise to look elsewhere at running back this week.
Houston has excelled against opposing receivers down the stretch, but Jeremy Maclin is still worth consideration. He has scored six touchdowns in his last six games and ranks as the No. 7 fantasy receiver over that stretch. Maclin is likely to see plenty of Jonathan Joseph in coverage. The savvy veteran corner has allowed just two touchdowns and 50-of-90 balls to be caught in his coverage. It’s certainly not an ideal matchup, but also not one to be overly concerned with given Maclin’s heavy target volume down the stretch While the Chiefs are certainly on the more conservative side of the spectrum, Maclin’s current form bodes well for Wild Card weekend. He also remains modestly priced across the DFS industry (DK: $6,400, FD: $7,200).
Perhaps the Chief’s best matchup of the day goes to Travis Kelce. Over the last five weeks, the Texans have proven susceptible to the tight end, allowing the eighth most fantasy points. Kelce may not have reached preseason expectations, but he did manage a solid season where he finished seventh in fantasy points at the position. With the tight end always a key part of Andy Reid’s offense, Kelce is a good bet to reach value this weekend on DraftKings ($4,500), though his price is a tad high on FanDuel ($6,400).
Contests with projected low scores can be tricky to navigate at the kicker and team defense positions, but it’s hard not to like the Chiefs DST. This unit leads all defenses in fantasy scoring over the last five weeks, and they’re like to get all-world pass rusher Justin Houston back. Kansas City is worth the premium price (DK: $4,000, FD: $5,100). This doesn’t appear to be the best game for kicker value, though those in FanDuel GPPs may want to take a flier on Cairo Santos. He kicked five-or-more field goals twice this season. That being said, he’s also the No. 29 fantasy kicker over the last five weeks.
It was a somewhat rocky road for this year’s stars of Hard Knocks, as the Texans lost five of their first seven games and seemed destined for an early 2016 draft pick. However, Bill O’Brien’s squad battled back on the strength of stout defensive play and the ascendant play of DeAndre Hopkins.
One of the major areas of concern for this team has been the quarterback position. Brian Hoyer hasn’t been a revelation, but he has given the team stability when he’s on the field. He’s also been a fringe QB1, scoring the 14th most fantasy points over the 11 games in which he’s appeared. Unfortunately, this isn’t the week to rely on Hoyer. The Chiefs have allowed just five passing touchdowns over the last five games, and they did so without Justin Houston. Hoyer has some appeal in GPPs, but should not be relied on in cash games.
After losing Arian Foster in Week 6, the running back position been a bit of a mess for the Texans with Alfred Blue, Jonathan Grimes, Chris Polk, and Akeem Hunt all seeing meaningful snaps. Of this bunch, Blue appears to be the clear lead back heading into this weekend. He’s paced the backfield in snaps over the last three weeks, and topped 100 yards twice over that stretch. Touchdowns could be an issue for Blue, as he’s scored just twice this season. Blue is also unlikely to get any work as a receiver. Grimes figures to be the passing down back, but Blue is the clear preferred fantasy option. He offers nice salary relief (DK: $4,200, FD: $5,700) and should be considered as a cash game play.
DeAndre Hopkins cemented his place among the elite names at wide receiver for fantasy purposes this season. In PPR formats, only Antonio Brown, Julio Jones, and Brandon Marshall outscored him, and only Brown and Jones saw more targets than Hopkins’ 187. While it’s tough to ignore his production, the matchup is cause for serious concern. Over the last five weeks, only the Seahawks have yielded fewer fantasy points to wide receivers than the Chiefs.
Hopkins is likely to face off against Sean Smith, with Nate Washington likely to see breakout rookie Marcus Peters. Smith was suspended when these two teams met back in Week 1, but since Week 4, he’s allowed just 53.2 percent of balls thrown into his coverage to be caught. Of course, it should be pointed out that Sammy Watkins did torch Smith back in Week 12, catching 5-of-7 targets for 125 yards and two scores. While the matchup is less than idea, Hopkins massive volume and high ceiling still make him an attractive cash game play. Those looking for GPP upside will want to steer clear of Washington. He’s dealing with a hip injury, but more importantly, it looks like Cecil Shorts will be back after missing the last two weeks with a hamstring injury.
Houston’s defense is always in consideration, though Kansas City has turned the ball over just 15 times this season and yielded just two scores to opposing defenses/special teams units. Surprisingly, Nick Novak has the sixth most fantasy points among kickers over the last five games, kicking 10 field goals and nine extra points over that stretch. Novak is just $4,600 on FanDuel, but it should be noted that the Chiefs are the No. 31 matchup for kickers over the last five weeks.
Click HERE for Pittsburgh @ Cincinnati
Pittsburgh @ Cincinnati
Projected score: CIN 24.7 – PIT 23.0
At points this season, the Steelers looked like one of the best teams in football. In fact, we could have made that argument as recently as three weeks ago. However, concerns abound for this team. DeAngelo Williams is injured and already ruled out for Saturday’s contest, Martavis Bryant has faded down the stretch, and the secondary has been a major weak spot all season.
We could even throw Ben Roethlisberger into that discussion. The veteran has thrown two picks in each of his last three games, looking flat at times, especially in the Steelers’ Week 16 loss to the Ravens. In two meetings against the Bengals this season, Roethlisberger has averaged 272 yards passing while throwing one touchdown and four interceptions. Those numbers don’t inspire much confidence, nor does the fact that the Bengals have yielded just three passing touchdowns over the last five weeks. Roethlisberger’s ceiling warrants GPP consideration, but it’s wise to fade him in cash games this weekend.
Without Williams, the Steelers will turn to Fitzgerald Toussaint as their lead back with Jordan Todman playing a complimentary role. Toussaint managed a dismal 24 yards on 12 carries in relief duty last week, but did cause three missed tackles. Toussaint is certainly a big step back from Williams, but he does have the potential to offer value at his modest price tag (DK: $3,900, FD: $5,700). With the Bengals a mid-pack matchup over the last five weeks, Toussaint should be strongly considered as a cash game play.
Likewise, cash game lineups should be built around Antonio Brown this weekend. I’m not going to rattle off the stats. If you don’t know how good Brown is, then you really shouldn’t be playing fantasy football. However, what should be noted is the Steelers’ expected game plan. With Williams out, Pittsburgh is likely to play to their strengths in the passing game, and that means a healthy does of Brown. He’s seen double-digit targets in each of his last nine games, topping 15 three times.
Martavis Bryant has a similar fantasy ceiling to Brown, but his extremely low floor was on full display over the last two weeks when he caught just two balls for six yards. His play drew the ire of Roethlisberger, who publicly called Bryant out. The move seems to have motivated Bryant, though it’s tough to know for certain until Saturday night. For now, Bryant is still a big risk in cash game formats. He should only be considered in GPPs. Those trying for an unconventional stack may also want to take a flier on Markus Wheaton. He hasn’t done much this season, but his massive Week 12 performance (201 yards and a score) shows his ceiling.
There isn’t much value to be had at tight end on the Steelers’ side in this contest. Heath Miller scored last week, but he’s the prototype high floor/low ceiling tight end. Over the last five weeks, no tight end has scored against the Bengals. However, there may be some good value at kicker in this contest. Cincinnati has allowed the 11th most fantasy points to kickers over the last five games, making Chris Boswell and interesting play on FanDuel. The Steelers defense is also in play this weekend. This unit picked off A.J. McCarron twice when they faced back in Week 13.
This season’s iteration of the Bengals was arguably the best in Marvin Lewis’ 13-year tenure. Of course, I use the past tense on purpose, because this is a very different team with A.J. McCarron under center. Andy Dalton is still recovering from the broken thumb he sustained in Week 14, and he could be back on the field as earlier as next week. That is, if the Bengals get past the Steelers this weekend.
For now, McCarron will be at the helm. In three starts, McCarron has been pedestrian at best, throwing for 552 yards and four touchdowns. He ranks as the No. 20 fantasy quarterback over the last three weeks. On paper, his matchup looks strong, but don’t be deceived by season-long stats. The Steelers gave up the seventh most fantasy points to quarterbacks for the season, but are a mid-pack matchup over the last five games. They faced a soft slate over that stretch with games against Hasselbeck/Whitehurst, Dalton/McCarron, Osweiler, Mallett, and Davis. Still, the Steelers showed they can at least do a reasonably good job against backup-level quarterbacks, holding that bunch to just seven passing touchdowns. McCarron lacks a cash game floor this week, but does has some GPP appeal, especially when stacked with A.J. Green.
A fantasy disappointment for much of the season, Jeremy Hill enters the playoffs on the heels of a strong Week 17 performance where he racked up 96 yards and a score on 16 carries against the Ravens. After topping 100 yards five times last season, Hill failed to reach the century mark at all in 2016. Yet, he still managed to finish as the No. 13 fantasy running back thanks to 11 rushing touchdowns in addition to the attrition at the position. Pittsburgh has been strong against the run this season, allowing just one rushing score over the last five games. However, the Steelers have surrendered two receiving touchdowns to running backs over that span. Giovani Bernard has served in more of a complimentary role down the stretch, though he figures to get most of the passing down work which makes him the preferred play of this duo on DraftKings.
While McCarron isn’t ideal at quarterback, this matchup still bodes well for A.J. Green. In two games against the Steelers this season, Green has racked up 250 yards and two scores. He’s likely to see his share of Ross Cockrell and Antwon Blake, which is a significant advantage for Green. It’s hard to ignore Green in cash game lineups. However, it’s wise to steer clear of Marvin Jones and Mohamed Sanu. Jones struggled against the Pittsburgh this season, with just eight catches for 73 yards, and Sanu gets the worst matchup of the three receivers against the talented CB Brandon Boykin.
The two previous meetings of these teams this season is a major advantage in evaluating players in this contest. In those two games, Tyler Eifert caught a combined six balls for 81 yards. In many ways, the two performances typify Eifert’s fantasy profile this season. He was remarkably efficient in the red zone, racking up 13 touchdowns. At the same time, he was targeted just 66 times in 13 games. With such low volume, Eifert was often a fantasy dud if he didn’t find the end zone. This volatility makes Eifert a risky cash game play, especially at his price (DK: $5,000, FD: $6,400). However, those looking to use McCarron in GPPs should strongly consider stacking Eifert.
Kicker is appealing on both sides of this contest, and Mike Nugent ($4,800) makes for a strong play on FanDuel this week. Pittsburgh yielded four field goals to Travis Coons last week. At team defense, the Bengals were a mid-pack option for much of the season, and scored just one defensive touchdown. While they held Roethlisberger in check in both meetings this season, this unit lacks the fantasy upside to warrant serious consideration.
Click HERE for Seattle @ Minnesota
Seattle @ Minnesota
Projected score: SEA 25.1 – MIN 18.0
It was a tale of two teams this season for the Seahawks. Seattle sputtered out of the gate, and went in to their Week 8 bye at 4-4. From there, the proverbial light bulb clicked on, and the Seahawks stormed down the stretch, winning six of their last eight and producing a historic run of offensive production for Mr. Doug Baldwin.
Baldwin deserves a lot of credit, but Russell Wilson is really the straw that stirs this drink. Over the last eight weeks, only Cam Newton has more fantasy points, and no quarterback threw more touchdown passes than Wilson’s whopping 25. He’s the most expensive quarterback this week on FanDuel ($8,600), but is actually $200 cheaper than Ben Roethlisberger on DraftKings. Either way, Wilson clearly offers the highest floor at the position this week, and should be considered a near lock for cash game lineups.
Ordinarily, I’d say the same thing about Marshawn Lynch, but the veteran running back and Skittles aficionado hasn’t seen the field since Week 10. That’s both a good and bad thing. On the plus side, he’s fresh. However, his role for Sunday’s contest isn’t clear. Reports on Twitter this week suggested the possibility for a full workload of 20-25 touches for Lynch, but there’s no guarantee following such a lengthy option. The only thing for certain is Lynch’s return takes Christine Michael out of play. Lynch is very tempting for GPP lineups, but he’s best avoided in cash game lineups. The ideal move this week is to save at running back and spend your money at receiver in cash games.
While many may look to Doug Baldwin as one of those receivers to spend on, his matchup deserves close analysis. Playing primarily out of the slot, Baldwin will see a lot of Captain Munnerlyn. The Panthers’ castoff has done a great job this season, and grades out as our No. 15 cornerback in coverage. Baldwin displayed video game efficiency down the stretch, but volume isn’t in his favor. He saw 10-plus targets just once this season, meaning it could be a modest day if he doesn’t find the end zone. Of course, it’s foolish not to acknowledge Baldwin’s GPP upside, but he’s an ideal fade in cash games this week.
On the outside, Tyler Lockett and Jermaine Kearse will see Xavier Rhodes and Terrance Newman with no projected shadow situation for either player. In the previous meeting between these two teams back in Week 13, Lockett caught 7-of-7 targets for 90 yards, while Kearse went catchless on one target. While a repeat performance out of Kearse isn’t likely, Lockett is the clear preferred play. However, like Baldwin, Lockett should be reserved for GPP lineups.
The Seahawks defense is always going to be in play based on name-brand recognition alone. However, this unit hasn’t scored a defensive touchdown since Week 10 and they’ve struggled to generate pressure on the quarterback with two-or-fewer sacks in five of their last seven games. With just six turnovers in the last five games, the Vikings have been a reasonably tough matchup for opposing fantasy defenses. All told, it may be wise to fade the Seahawks this weekend. However, the same cannot be said for Steven Hauscka ($5,100). He’s the No. 4 fantasy kicker over the last five games and is worth spending up for at FanDuel this week.
Mike Zimmer has done an impressive job with the Vikings in his short tenure as head coach, and much of their success can be attributed to Zimmer’s influence on the defensive side of the ball. However, for fantasy purposes, that won’t do much good this weekend. Outside of the obvious name of Adrian Peterson, it’s going to be hard to endorse anyone from the Vikings offense.
Teddy Bridgewater showed improvement down the stretch for this team, but he threw more than one touchdown pass just twice this season. Against Seattle in Week 13, Bridgewater completed 17-of-28 for 118 yards and zero scores. He was picked once and sacked four times. Stefon Diggs also struggled mightily in that contest, with just two catches for 22 yards. It’s tough to get behind either player as anything more than a complete shot in the dark GPP play.
At running back, Peterson is the most expensive across the industry (DK: $7,300, FD: $8,400), but is he worth it? That’s an easy question to ask, and a somewhat complex question to answer. On one hand, running back so sparse this week that spending up for Peterson makes sense. However, he gets a terrible matchup against a Seahawks defense that held him to 18 yards in Week 13. In a very volatile game script where the Seahawks are heavy favorites, Peterson isn’t an ideal play and should be reserved for GPP lineups only.
Over the last five weeks, the Seahawks have yielded the fewest fantasy points per game to opposing kickers. So that takes Blair Walsh of the table. However, the Vikings defense makes for an intriguing GPP play. The Seahawks are actually a mid-pack matchup, and this Minnesota unit scored the third most fantasy points over the last five games. That being said, the potential for a blow out makes the Vikings too risky for cash games.
Click HERE for Green Bay @ Washington
Green Bay @ Washington
Projected score: GB 23.7 – WAS 22.8
The sputtering Packers come limping into the playoffs having lost six of their last 10 games. Over that stretch, Aaron Rodgers is the No. 14 fantasy quarterback, after posting the second-most fantasy points in the Packers’ first six games. Rodgers’ decline is the byproduct of several factors including the lack of a consistent run game, poor wide receiver play, and an offensive line that has had to rely on Don Barclay far too frequently. Barclay grades out among the league’s worst offensive tackles, and no tackle has yielded more pressures and sacks per snap than Barclay.
Still, he is Aaron Rodgers, and this is a desirable matchup against a Redskins team that yields the 10th most fantasy points per game to opposing quarterbacks over the last five games. Over that stretch, Washington has surrendered 300-plus yards to Eli Manning, Jay Cutler, Sam Bradford, and Kellen Moore. While Russell Wilson is the chalk cash game play this week, Rodgers is a strong pivot at a reasonable discount (DK: $6,400, FD: $8,100). He’s also a solid GPP option.
This was largely a lost season for early-round running backs, a fact to which Eddie Lacy owners can certainly attest. Ranked by some fantasy pundits as the preseason No. 1 overall player, Lacy’s rollercoaster season resulted in a 25th place finish among running backs in standard leagues, which was two spots behind James Starks. The matchup is strong with the Redskins yielding five rushing touchdowns over the last five weeks, but can we trust either Packers back? While I’d love to give a ringing endorsement, it’s just impossible to do so for either player. However, if given the choice of the two, the edge goes to Lacy, who figures to get the larger workload of the two. At just $200 more than Starks on FanDuel and $500 more on DraftKings, Lacy represents an intriguing, but very volatile, play this week. His price is cheap enough (DK: $4,500, FD: $6,000) to warrant cash game consideration, and he’s certainly in play in GPPs.
I don’t think anyone thought the Packers would enter the playoffs with James Jones as their top receiving target, but that’s exactly what happened. Jones has seen 30 targets over the last three weeks, and he’s tough to ignore at just $4,100 on DraftKings and $5,700 on FanDuel. His price should all but lock him into cash game lineups. Neither Randall Cobb nor Davante Adams are particularly appealing in cash formats. Likewise, TE Richard Rodgers shouldn’t factor in to cash game lineups and offers little upside in GPPs.
Perhaps the one area being overlooked heading into this contest is how well the Packers defense performed down the stretch. Green Bay has held six of their last eight opponents to 20-or-fewer points and have at least one interception in each of their last four games. While Kirk Cousins has been on fire, he did show a propensity for picks to open the season with two interceptions in four of his first six games. The Packers defense has the potential to be this week’s highest scorer and is the lowest priced at DraftKings ($2,800) and second-lowest at FanDuel ($4,500). This isn’t necessarily the game for kicker value, and Mason Crosby sits 25th in fantasy scoring over the last five weeks.
Washington emerged from a depressing NFC East, and there are a lot of things to like about this team. That list starts at quarterback, where Kirk Cousins has emerged as a viable fantasy option. He finished 10th among quarterbacks in fantasy points for the season, and was actually the No. 3 fantasy quarterback since Week 10. Only Cam Newton and Russell Wilson put up more fantasy points over that span. Cousins is certainly tempting this week, but don’t undersell this matchup. Over the last five games, the Packers yield the third fewest fantasy points to quarterbacks, and they’re coming of a Week 17 performance where they completely shut down Teddy Bridgewater. Cousins’ upside keeps him on the GPP radar, but he’s an extremely risky cash game play.
Likewise, there’s a lot of risk in the Washington backfield this week. Matt Jones has been limited all week with a hip pointer, and listed as questionable for Sunday. However, reports suggest he’s more on the doubtful side. If Jones sits, Alfred Morris would figure to get much of the early-down work, with veteran Pierre Thomas likely to see an expanded role. On the street for much of the season, Thomas was added to the roster a month ago, and he quickly surpassed Chris Thompson in the pecking order. He’s looking surprisingly spry, and showed he still has chops as a receiver with seven catches for 67 yards against Philly in Week 16. Thomas is bargain basement priced (DK: $3,400, FD: $4,500), which makes him an ultra-sneaky GPP play if Jones is out, especially on DraftKings.
Volume has never been in DeSean Jackson’s favor, but the speedster has established good chemistry with Cousins, scoring four touchdowns over the last five games. Jackson isn’t an ideal cash game play, but his massive ceiling is worth some exposure in GPPs. We initially projected Pierre Garcon to face off against CB Sam Shields, but Shields is still dealing with a concussion and looks unlikely to suit up. Garcon would get a slight edge if rookie Quinten Rollins gets the start. More of a possession receiver, Garcon lacks significant upside, though he has scored in each of the last three games. Those looking for an unconventional stack may want to pair Cousins with Garcon.
Of course, Jordan Reed is the Redskins’ true top option at receiver. Reed was nothing short of dominant down the stretch, leading all tight ends in fantasy scoring over the last eight weeks. At times, he was downright Gronk-like, like when he scored twice in the first quarter on the Eagles in Week 16. Reed is the most expensive tight end this week (DK: $6,300, FD: $7,400), but there’s no reason to overthink this one. Pay up for Reed in cash games.
While the Packers gave up a massive day to the Cardinals DST two weeks ago, they have generally been a tough matchup this season. Washington lacks firepower on the defensive side of the ball, and really isn’t in consideration for DFS lineups this week. However, Dustin Hopkins is somewhat intriguing. Among playoff teams in action this weekend, only the Bengals have given up more fantasy points than the Packers have to kickers over the last five weeks.
Jeff Ratcliffe is the Assistant Managing Editor and resident IDP maven and DFS junkie of PFF Fantasy.