Welcome to Week 18 of the NFL!
What lies ahead are the unpredictable waters of short-slate GPPs. For those of you that participated in Prime Time tournaments throughout the season, this will be familiar territory. For those of you that haven’t, be careful in these contests. Having just four games to choose from creates an added layer of variance, even though ownership will be clustered around three or four key players. And since ownership percentages will be so slanted, it’s extremely difficult to build a competitive roster that’s also unique enough to leap frog the field. So be smart with bankroll management. Don’t forget that even though you might love your lineups, there’s always the chance a guy like Jason Avant goes nuts with a pair of touchdowns at random, and, of course, a few lucky folks will have him rostered.
Our approach won’t be all that different from the regular season. We won’t have hard ownership data to rely on, but we will have intuition. The process, as it has been for 17 weeks, remains intact: fade obvious plays where possible while identifying better, less obvious plays. Rather than splitting this into two separate articles like we did with The Fade and The Contrarian, we’re going to combine everything here and break down each game individually and in chronological order. The spread, over/under and projected team total will be displayed for each contest, but keep in mind those numbers can and will change. The number in parenthesis represents each team’s seed.
Kansas City Chiefs (5) @ Houston Texans (4)
Spread: Chiefs -3
Project Team Totals: Chiefs 21.5, Texans 18.5
In the first game of the 2015 playoffs, the Chiefs will take their 10-game winning streak to Houston in one of two non-divisional rematches from the regular season. Back in Week 1, the Chiefs travelled to Houston and handed the Texans their first loss. We were treated to 726 yards of total offense in that game, and 47 total points. DeAndre Hopkins contributed 12 of those points with his two touchdowns on nine receptions (13 targets). Without question, he’s sure to be one of the highest owned players of the weekend. If you’ll remember, there was a stretch there, started by Hopkins, where the Chiefs secondary was getting shredded. But they did slow the bleeding. Here’s a quick look at what they allowed in their first eight games versus their last eight with total and average FanDuel points:
|Chiefs vs WRs||Rec||Yards||TDs||FD Pts||Ave FD Pts|
That’s quite the change. But competition may explain more of it than anything. In the second half of the season, they faced the Raiders twice, Chargers twice, Browns, Bills, Broncos and Ravens—not exactly a collection of pass-strong offenses. It’s also worth noting that Kamar Aiken managed 128 yards and a touchdown just three weeks ago, and Sammy Watkins tagged them for 158 yards and two touchdowns a few weeks before that. So if you fade Hopkins, you’re doing it just to undercut his popularity. He may end up being the only target for Brian Hoyer, as both Nate Washington and Cecil Shorts are in bad shape injury wise.
Outside of Hopkins, it’s hard to pinpoint a strong DFS play in this game. Both of these defenses have been solid for the better part of the season, and neither offense features a dynamic player-maker with blazing upside. The lack of running back clarity in Week 18 makes Charcandrick West an interesting option, especially given his use in the passing game, but the Texans all around defense is one of the best in the playoffs. If anything, the Texans kicker, along with their defense, might be the best options.
This contest also features a great opportunity to be contrarian. It’s reasonable to expect low ownership across the board with the exception of Hopkins. This leaves Alex Smith and Hoyer as low-owned yet capable of hitting their respective values. Travis Kelce slammed 106 yards and two touchdowns on the Texans in Game 1, and Jeremy Maclin saw the most targets. If you’re rolling out multiple lineups, it might not be such a bad idea to stack Smith with one or two of those guys.
On the other side of the field, should Washington and/or Shorts be ruled out, Jaelen Strong becomes your super-risky, super-cheap wide receiver. He saw his first action in Week 5 with both Washington and Shorts on the sideline and turned in a pair of touchdowns.
Pittsburgh Steelers (6) @ Cincinnati Bengals (3)
Spread: Steelers -2.5
Projected Team Totals: Steelers 24.5, Bengals 22
The reason this game has our highest over/under of the weekend is because of the Steelers’ defense and the Steelers’ offense. We can expect the Bengals to move the ball through the air against a secondary that bleeds yards to quarterbacks and their subsequent wide receivers. Meanwhile, the Steelers’ offense ranks as one of the best in the playoffs, with or without DeAngelo Williams.
It’s unfortunate that Williams is unlikely to play this weekend. He was one of two or three running backs totally free of a committee. In his place, we have a combination of Fitzgerald Toussaint and Jordan Todman—neither of which provide any DFS comfort, especially against the Bengals who have allowed just six rushing touchdowns to running backs. They have been a little more generous to pass-catching backs with 790 yards allowed on 102 receptions and five scores, so if you want to totally punt this position given its surrounding uncertainty, perhaps Toussaint is worth a contrarian flip.
In two games against the Bengals this season Antonio Brown was held to 134 yards and one touchdown on 13 catches (21 targets). Outside of Steve Smith’s 186-yard, two-touchdown performance back in Week 3, this secondary has been tough sledding for receivers. But given the fact that the Steelers don’t have a reliable running back or reliable defense, volume should be there for both Brown and Ben Roethlisberger. Not to say volume is a good thing; Roethlisberger has the third most interceptions in the league despite playing just 12 games, with seven of them coming in his last four games and four of them against the Bengals.
Meanwhile, A.J. McCarron hasn’t thrown an interception since he took over as the starter in Week 14, which so happened to be against the Steelers. As it stands, he finished his season with an average of 213.5 yards per game and six touchdowns to two interceptions. His matchup is one of the best of the weekend; only two teams have allowed more passing yards than Pittsburgh and their 29 touchdowns rank 11th. Getting a healthy Tyler Eifert especially helps. Add in A.J. Green and we have the most optimal power-stack of the weekend, and a reason to think that perhaps the Bengals will win their first playoff game in 26 years.
Those three players are enough to move away from Jeremy Hill and Giovani Bernard. The Steelers represent our favorite buzzword of the 2015 season with a funnel defense. That is, they are impossible to run on and easy to throw on. As such, the offense is funneled to their soft secondary.
Heath Miller has only four games of at least double-digit FanDuel points this season. The Bengals have allowed three double-digit games to tight ends this season: two of them were to Miller. Without a running game, and with the Bengals focusing on Brown, Miller looks like a nice contrarian play (especially if Martavis Bryant pulls another disappearing act). Only the Giants have allowed more receptions to tight ends than the Bengals, and only three teams have allowed more yards.
Seattle Seahawks (6) @ Minnesota Vikings (3)
Spread: Seahawks -5.5
Projected Team Totals: Seahawks 22.75, Vikings 17.25
This game is one of two that features a non-divisional rematch from the regular season. But unlike the Chiefs/Texans tilt, this one was completely lopsided. The Seahawks smoked the Vikings in Minnesota six weeks ago, with 433 yards of offense and 38 total points. Defensively, they allowed just 125 yards and nine first downs in a 38-7 blowout.
Since their Week 9 bye, they’ve averaged 32 points per game and a 6-2 record. Russell Wilson is the second highest ranked quarterback per FanDuel scoring during that time, just barely falling short of Cam Newton, with 2,397 total yards and 26 total touchdowns. He will likely be the highest owned player of the weekend, despite the Vikings representing a solid defense. Truth is, it’s hard to make a case for any other player in this matchup. Perhaps a Wilson stack with Doug Baldwin might work out. Baldwin closed the season as one of the hottest receivers and shouldn’t have too high of exposure with most of the crowd flocking towards Hopkins, Brown and Green. We’d like to fire up Christine Michael and take advantage of his friendly $6,500 salary in a potential blowout, but with Marshawn Lynch set to take over some, if not all, of the snaps, neither running back can be trusted. This leave us with three trustworthy plays: Wilson, the Seahawks defense and Steve Hauschka.
If Lynch ends up practicing in full through Friday, he will likely be the highest own running back. The Vikings run defense has allowed just five rushing touchdowns on the season—the same number as the Seahawks—so we might need to temper expectations. But a well-rest Beast Mode is matchup proof and could swing tournaments.
On the opposite side of the field, we have the only running back who isn’t in trouble of losing snaps. Or is he? Adrian Peterson’s fumble against the Packers could have cost his team their first division championship since Brett Favre was the starter, and the last time he faced the Seahawks he managed only 24 combined yards. In general, the Vikings offense matches up horribly against Seattle. Unless Teddy Bridgewater somehow wakes up Sunday morning with a new understanding of blitz pickups and progressions, this offense, and all of its parts, are doomed.
Green Bay Packers (5) @ Washington (4)
Spread: Packers -1
Projected Team Totals: Green Bay 23, Washington 22
Depending on where you look, the Packers are either favored by one, underdogs by one or even. This might be the most challenging matchup of the week. Of course, things would be a lot easier if the Packers hadn’t stumbled into the playoffs with just 21 combined points and 528 combined yards over their last two games. Let’s not forget that they entered the season as 6-1 favorites to win the Super Bowl, second only to the Seahawks. Now, among the 12 remaining teams, the Packers odds have dropped to 35-1, tied with the Vikings as the fourth lowest.
But where DFS is concerned, there’s a lot to like about their offense, particularly with Aaron Rodgers. Despite all his inconsistencies and disappointing games this season, he finished as QB7 per FanDuel scoring. Unfortunately, his salary doesn’t reflect a QB7. He finished with greater than 2.4x value just three times in 2015 and failed to eclipse 2x seven times. He enters Week 18 priced as the third highest quarterback with a fee of $8,100. The good news: this is his lowest salary in the history of FanDuel (or at least since 2009). The better news: check out what quarterbacks have done to Washington over the second half of the season:
Nearly 300 passing yards per game and over 20 FanDuel points per game. Just last week Kellen Moore and Co. burned them with 435 yards and three scores. Granted, Washington bench its starters early, but you have to think Rodgers and his receivers are much better than Moore and his receivers. Furthermore, considering how poorly the Packers, including Rodgers, have played lately, the crowd will be shy. Feel free to pencil him in as a contrarian play.
Who to stack him with is the real question. Washington has been getting crushed by perimeter receivers for the duration of the season. They enter the playoffs having allowed the ninth most yards and fourth most touchdowns. But how much can we actually trust anyone of Randall Cobb, James Jones or Davante Adams to blow up for multiple scores in this game? My guess as to how the crowd will favor them in terms of exposure: Jones, Cobb, Adams.
The sharp move, and forgive me for using that word to describe this situation, might be to stack Rodgers with Eddie Lacy. Generally, there is a negative correlation between rostering a quarterback and running back on the same team, but the running back pool is so stark this week it’s hard enough to find a guy that has the backfield all to himself. Lacy certainly doesn’t, but he is the best bet to find the end zone. Washington has been punished by big backs this year. The likes of Jonathan Stewart, Chris Ivory, LeGarrette Blount and Devonta Freeman combined for 636 yards and four touchdowns. All told, Washingtons’ defense is the worst on the board for the playoffs, so if you don’t start Rodgers, Lacy might be the best overall running back play. And I’m not scared to roster both of them in the same lineup. With a four-game slate, you have to readjust the way you view correlation between teammates.
Over the last three weeks of the season, Kirk Cousins completed 73 percent of his 89 attempts for 860 yards, 11 passing touchdowns, zero interceptions and one rushing touchdown. This, all while playing just 24 snaps in Week 17 (he attempted 15 passes; three of them were touchdowns). Ultimately, he finished as QB8 on the season. But he’ll have a tough time maintaining his hot streak against the Packers, even at home. Green Bay has allowed the sixth fewest passing yards and sixth fewest touchdowns to quarterbacks.
The one area of the field they have struggled against is tight ends. Greg Olsen, Kyle Rudolph, Travis Kelce and Antonio Gates have all exposed the Packers softness in the middle of the field. It just so happens that Washington has fantasy’s second highest scoring tight of the season. Jordan Reed is our most costly, and likely most popular, tight end on the board this weekend. He leads all Washington players in targets, averaging over eight per game. The only reason to fade him is to avoid his $7,400 salary, and pivot towards Miller or Eifert.
Their wide receivers are a crapshoot. Pierre Garcon has scored in three consecutive contests but has just 163 yards over that time. In Weeks 11 through 16 DeSean Jackson managed a WR16 ranking with 469 yards and four touchdowns on 25 receptions. He didn’t play a snap in Week 17 to be presumably fresh for this game. The receivers that have found the most success against the Packers are big-bodied types (think Demayrius Thomas, Michael Floyd, and to a lesser extent, Keenan Allen and Amari Cooper), something Washington doesn’t feature. But of the two, I like Garcon to see more a steady stream of targets and a much better scoring outlook.
One thing is for sure, betting on running backs in this circus is not wise:
Jay Gruden says unless Matt Jones gets healthier quickly, he'll be the odd-man out of the RB rotation. #Redskins— Chris Russell (@Russellmania621) January 6, 2016
Since that tweet, Matt Jones has practiced in limited fashion. But it doesn’t matter. The circulation of running backs for Jay Gruden can’t be predicted nor relied upon. The Packers are beatable on the ground, to be sure, despite their 22nd ranking in fantasy points allowed, but good luck picking which running back will beat them this week.
Truth is, it may not be a terrible idea to fire up the Packers defense and totally bet against Cousins and Co. Doing so gives us a nice correlation stack with Lacy and perhaps Mason Crosby. It also frees up a lot of cap space as Crosby is the only minimum priced kicker, and the Packers defense is $4,500.
Conversely, the Packers offense has been sketchy at best while allowing the fifth most sacks. Washingtons' defense is the worst on the board but also the cheapest. Their $4,300 salary, should you choose to punt this position, allows for a lot of roster flexibility and the crowd won't touch them.