This week, we'll discuss the following topics:
Choosing Two Quarterbacks
On a two-quarterback site and a short slate, what's your general strategy? Do you lean towards stacking two quarterbacks from the same game and hoping it's a shootout? Or will you specifically avoid that situation?
If you opt for the same-game option, which of this weekend's game would you prefer to target?
Jeff Pasquino: I'm looking for the best matchups for my quarterbacks. Ideally you would love to have two going mano-a-mano in one contest that is a shootout, but that doesn't always happen. You can't force it. You have to look for the best matchups and go with that. Normally I am looking for a team that has to throw and a possible game script where the run game will be eliminated (mostly) in the second half. Pittsburgh could easily be one team here, with DeAngelo Williams likely out or at best less than 100%, so Ben Roethlisberger is going to have to carry the offense. Considering that and the possible game script for Cincinnati if the Steelers start to rack up points (A.J. McCarron will have to throw to play catch up, and the weakness of the Steeler defense is the pass) I could see a Pittsburgh-Cincinnati stack working this weekend.
The other game to consider is Green Bay-Washington, for similar reasons. Kirk Cousins has been very hot, and Aaron Rodgers will likely have to throw, which is the best way to attack Washington's defense. I don't see Kansas City-Houston as a shootout at all, and Seattle might be on cruise control if they play the Vikings like they did a few weeks ago. I'd stay away from those two, but if pressed, Alex Smith and Russell Wilson - both of whom can run - would be reasonable choices.
Dan Hindery: With so many talented defenses playing on Wild Card weekend, there’s only one game that interests me in terms of stacking both quarterbacks; Green Bay at Washington. As Jeff said, Cousins has been playing exceptionally well down the stretch. He has thrown 11 touchdowns (and rushed for another) in his last nine quarters of action. While the Washington offense has been hot, the defense has given up big fantasy numbers to the opposing quarterback in each of the last four games. The past four opponents have averaged over 300 passing yards and two passing touchdowns per game. While Green Bay’s offense has been struggling, this is a plus matchup for Rodgers and the Packers passing offense. In a GPP, the correlation play of rostering both quarterbacks is a great play. Especially considering how tough the passing matchups are for other six quarterbacks on the slate.
Chris Feery: Even on a short slate, I’m looking for the best value and the quarterbacks that I feel are in the best spots. That being said, this week does present two good same-game stacking opportunities as Jeff and Dan already pointed out. Pittsburgh will likely be running a pass-heavy game plan due to the injury to Williams. And with a bevy of talented wideouts at Roethlisberger's disposal, the forecast in Cincinnati may call for points. If that comes to fruition, McCarron – who has filled in pretty well for the injured Andy Dalton – could be forced to air it out a bit in a bid to keep pace and/or catch-up with the high-powered Steelers offense.
For Green Bay at Washington, I’m intrigued by both signal callers, just for different reasons. Cousins has been on quite the roll of late and has an appealing matchup on tap with a Packers defense that has allowed two passing touchdowns in three of its past five games. As for Rodgers, he has not fared as well of late with only three touchdowns and three interceptions over his past three games, but he faces off with a Washington team that can be beaten through the air. Could we perhaps see a vintage Rodgers performance in a do or die game? Most likely not due to the recent struggles of the Packers, but he offers some intriguing upside at a reasonable price of $6,550. By the way, if we flash back to the beginning of the season – who would have thought that Rodgers wouldn’t be the most expensive quarterback for a playoff weekend?
As for the rest of the quarterbacks, I would lean towards Smith at a price of $5,850. Smith always flies under the radar due to his game manager reputation, but has actually been pretty consistent in 2015 and has thrown for two touchdowns in four of his last six games. Add in the fact that he offers some upside with his production on the ground and Smith just may be a solid contrarian quarterback selection for Wild Card weekend.
Justin Howe: Value is the name of the game here - especially for your QB2 - and Jeff hit the nail on the head on volume. Quarterbacks whom we can expect to throw and throw and throw are the ones to target. And, yes, dueling quarterbacks in a wild shootout is one of those high-impact stacks that can swing a tournament. If one quarterback is throwing for big yardage and touchdown totals, it stands to reason that the other team will likely need to boost its passing volume to keep up. Essentially, you're rolling the dice that the opposing quarterback will be on his game and successfully keeping his team alive, generating stats and keeping the game interesting for both passing games.
There's no stud-on-stud matchup this week. But to some degree, the Steelers-Bengals passers check the volume box. Roethlisberger stands as the week's most valuable play at this point. He closed the season with 36+ attempts in seven of his last eight starts, and with Williams looking unlikely, he'll have to shoulder even more of the offense. On the other side, McCarron, subtly effective in the lineup, threw a hefty number of passes in his two games that weren't grind-it-out Bengals wins. Only a Bengals blowout - possible, considering the state of the Steelers, but not likely - would derail that.
This Week's "Cheat Code"
A number of analysts in the community use this term when describing a player who makes DFS games so easy due to his massive performance that it ends up feeling like a video game being played with a cheat code on. For example, Chris Raybon authored this tweet about Odell Beckham Jr in December, 2014. As you can see from Beckham's 2014 game log, there probably weren't many people losing money with Beckham on their rosters.
With that in mind, which player is the "DFS Cheat Code" that you'll absolutely need on your team this weekend?
Jeff Pasquino: I'm not sure I can find one "Cheat Code." It is really about the game script you like and who you want to pick based on that script. I'm much more likely to go for a superstack (QB and two of his WRs or WR/TE) on a short slate like this than anything else. I may even use two superstacks in the same lineup as I see this weekend (and all of the postseason, really) as GPP/tournament games only. Cash is very hard to play with small slates; one mistake and you're done. For me, building two superstacks and then filling in around that based on implied game script is the strategy I will employ the most.
Dan Hindery: The key to winning on a small slate is hitting on the low-owned, inexpensive player that ends up surprising with a big game. My money is on Heath Miller as a sneaky pick to have a big game against Cincinnati. At just $4,400, Miller is a great option as either a flex or as an alternative to a guy like Jordan Reed ($5,300) who is likely to be owned by approximately half the field. The Bengals defense has historically been weakest against tight ends and pass-catching running backs. With DeAngelo Williams ailing, Pittsburgh is likely to be more pass-heavy than normal. They are also probably going to involve their running backs a bit less in the passing game without Williams. With Martavis Bryant struggling mightily down the stretch of the regular season, Miller could be the number-two option in the Pittsburgh offense against Cincinnati and could be the go-to option in the red zone.
We’ve already seen in the two previous Cincinnati-Pittsburgh matchups that Pittsburgh likes the Miller matchup against the Bengals linebackers better than some of the other matchups in the passing game as Miller had 20 catches (10 in each game) in the two games.
Chris Feery: I don’t know that there’s necessarily a "Cheat Code" this week, but I’ll be looking at low-cost players that bring some nice upside to the table and will likely have a low ownership percentage. For example, Spencer Ware has had his number called for red zone work several times over the past few weeks and could be in line for more of the same this week. He’s also receiving a similar amount of carries as backfield mate Charcandrick West, who will likely be the more popular choice among the two. It’s a tough matchup against a Texans defense that has really stepped it up over the past few weeks, but Ware could be a sneaky, low-cost source of production.
Justin Howe: Like Chris, I'm on the Ware bandwagon in my tournaments. I'm not that excited, however, as Houston's defense is generally strong, and I don't expect a ton of red zone work for slow-paced Kansas City. But he should hog pretty much all of what they do get near the goal line; he and Jeremy Maclin are a sneaky "anti-stack" that could easily account for all of Kansas City's touchdowns.
But most prominently, as Jeff pointed out, the superstacks are the ones that can really swing a GPP contest. And it looks to me like that will come from the Steelers-Bengals game. With good-to-great volume outlooks (Ben Roethlisberger has thrown 36+ passes in eight of nine starts, while A.J. McCarron has thrown a good amount in his two close games) and dominant skill-position guys, I see these two as a fine QB-QB stack for tournament play. The Bengals are home underdogs, while it's likely that the pass will account for every Steelers touchdown and the overwhelming majority of their yardage. That means that any negative or neutral game script will tilt the Steelers offense so far toward the pass that you don't want to be left without chunks of it.
Pittsburgh's Running Back
Pittsburgh says that it's "possible" DeAngelo Williams will play. However, local papers have called him closer to "doubtful." Assuming Pittsburgh is without Williams, are you at all interested in Fitzgerald Touissant? He's priced as the RB16 at $4,100.
Jeff Pasquino: A possible starting tailback at RB16 in a week with only eight teams playing? Yes, I'm interested. But, I'm not going to go out of my way to roster him, because if he "starts," he may not see all the work (they also have Jordan Todman, and they can run some wide receiver jet sweeps too). I am likely to build with him in the lineup and see how much money I have left over, and probably then upgrade because I just don't see him hitting 2.5x-3x of that salary. Cincinnati may encourage the Steelers to try and run, but I expect Ben Roethlisberger to throw 40+ times and play almost exlcusively out of the shotgun if Williams is out. Pittsburgh is a pass-first team anyway, so not having much of a ground game is not a big deal to them at all.
Dan Hindery: Toussaint is a risky play because we don’t know how the split with Todman will look, and we don’t know how the loss of their top running backs will impact the Steelers game plan. It is possible that they simply go extremely pass-heavy. While there is risk with Toussaint, the same can be said of most of the other options at running back on this weekend’s slate. We have split backfields in Cincinnati, Green Bay, Houston, Kansas City, Washington, and possibly Seattle. Adrian Peterson looks like the only back on the entire slate that is the clearcut workhorse. But he is extremely expensive ($5,950) and facing one of the league’s best run defenses. So even though Toussaint would probably be too risky to roster on a full-slate, his price ($4,100) and potential role makes him one of the most attractive options at the position on Wild Card Weekend.
With so many tough run defenses playing this weekend and so many of the teams splitting carries at running back, the best play may be to go with a pair of inexpensive runners, like Toussaint and Giovani Bernard ($4,450), and then putting the savings towards rostering two or three of the top receivers.
Justin Howe: This is, of course, a flashback to last year, when LeVeon Bell was lost in Week 17. The Steelers signed Ben Tate and scrambled to put a competent back on the field, but the Ravens swallowed them whole, and game flow prevented them from seeing strong volume. And I'm not sure I see a better RB option on the 2016 roster. As a result, the only interest I may have in the Steelers backfield lies in the passing game; that is, whichever back looks likely to take passing game snaps. And I'm confident that would be Todman, who has seen 66 targets as a pro. I could see a GPP lineup that rolls the dice on Todman hitting 75 total yards; if he catches 5-7 balls along the way, he'l hit value easily. Note: this is a tournament play ONLY.
Chris Feery: I'm somewhat interested in Touissant for a GPP flyer due to his low price, but we can also expect him to be a pretty popular selection if Williams is in fact ruled out. If we had a healthy Williams, we would be looking at basically plug-and-play production and a highly-owned back that would be tough to make a case for fading. The same can't be said for Toussaint. There's simply too many questions about his ability to produce and also no guarantees that he won't be splitting snaps with Todman. There are several mid-priced running backs that can offer a more predictable return, namely Bernard, Charcandrick West, and Spencer Ware. It may be wise to spend up a little at running back this week as opposed to taking a risk with an unknown variable.
Low Total Games
Two of this weekend's games have over/under's of only 40 points (Kansas City at Houston and Seattle at Minnesota). Of the two, which do you think has the better chance of going over the total and providing some sneaky fantasy production? Which player(s) will benefit most?
Jeff Pasquino: The simple approach for me here, as I think both Kansas City and Houston have two defenses that are playing at elite levels. The Chiefs have only allowed two teams to top 18 points in their past 10 victories, while the Texans have given up 10 or fewer points in six of their last nine contests. Only two teams had 21 or more points against Houston in the past two months: Buffalo and New England. Oakland (twice) and, ironically, Buffalo are the only three teams the Chiefs allowed to score 17 or more points in the last ten games. So, putting all of that together, I see Kansas City-Houston as a defensive battle in a very low-scoring contest.
That leads me to the Seattle-Minnesota game as being the better option to break 40 points, but that would probably mean the Seahawks are blowing out the Vikings, as I trust the Seattle defense more and their offense is far more explosive than Minnesota. If this were to occur, Seattle would blow out Minnesota like they did just a few weeks ago, led by the defense that shut out Minnesota (the Vikings only scored via a kick return) and Russell Wilson throwing and running all over the place. Christine Michael or Marshawn Lynch will take over the Thomas Rawls role from that previous game, but I think we'd see the Wilson-Doug Baldwin show yet again should the Seahawks run up a big number.
Dan Hindery: Jeff is right on with his analysis here. Seattle is the only one of these four teams that has shown the ability to put up big point totals against a good defense. Wilson has thrown 28 touchdowns over his past 11 games, and the passing offense has really found a rhythm in the past two months. Minnesota’s defense is tough, but so was the Cardinals defense that Seattle dominated last weekend. Seattle has also shown that they are not afraid to keep throwing even when staked to a big lead, so there is less concern that a quick start would lead the Seahawks to go to a run-only offense.
While the smart money is on this game being a relatively low-scoring affair, it shouldn’t be a surprise if the playoff-tested Seahawks come out and dominate a Vikings team that has a number of key players making their playoff debuts.
Justin Howe: Houston's defense, specifically against the pass, has been better all year than many have noticed. They've done a fine job against number-one wideouts, so Jeremy Maclin's outlook as the only outside mismatch creator isn't great. To top it off, any quarterback facing them deals with J.J. Watt, which cuts into their playbook at best and all but shuts down their dropbacks at worst. To that end, I see Kansas City looking to fight off the upset with a typically ultra-conservative script, one that values the run game but splits its attempts among three guys.
I like that Dan pointed out the inexperience in the Minnesota defense. There are great, great pieces in place, but they're all untested and face a red-hot quarterback fresh off two Super Bowl appearances. The young core of Harrison Smith, Shariff Floyd, Anthony Barr, Eric Kendricks, Trae Waynes have combined to play in one postseason game. And of course it's hard to see hot-and-cold Teddy Bridgewater putting together the long, exhaustive drives that would wear down the Legion of Boom. That leaves the Vikings likely looking at an uphill game on offense, and one that keeps their defense chasing Seahawks around the field all day.
Chris Feery: I agree with the majority that the Seattle-Minnesota game has the better chance of going over its low projected total. The Seahawks offense has been one of the more productive units in the league over the course of the second half, outside of Week 16's hiccup against the Rams. They are also only a few weeks removed from dropping 38 points on this same Vikings squad. Although we can expect the Vikings to adjust accordingly and perhaps do a little better job of containing them this week in the playoffs, there remains a good chance for the Seahawks to put some points on the board, which will perhaps lead to some garbage time production for the Vikings offense to help push the total even higher.
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