Two stellar matchups are on the docket for the Conference Championship games, and it certainly doesn’t appear as if scoring points will be an issue in either game. Thankfully, we get a chance to partake in the fun with our final chance to play NFL DFS for this season.
As we’ve seen over the last two weeks, short slates can be pretty tough. It’s hard to find an edge with a limited player pool, and there tends to be a ton of overlap on lineups. That will be even more apparent this week, but there’s still ways to dig in and position our lineups to set themselves apart from the pack.
It’s going to be next to impossible to find a true contrarian selection, but we can still try to pinpoint the players that will be somewhat less popular. We can easily expect the top plays of the week to exceed 40 percent in terms of ownership percentage, but balancing that out with a solid player that hovers around the 20 percent range or less can be a boon for your lineups if all goes correctly.
Despite the lack of true under the radar options, we’ll stick with our familiar format of looking at both games from a chalk and contrarian perspective. Just keep in mind that for this week, contrarian equals players that are expected to be lesser owned by the masses.
Conference Championship Games
Green Bay Packers @ Atlanta Falcons
Chalk: Aaron Rodgers and Matt Ryan will both have extraordinarily large ownership percentages, and there’s obviously no reason to fade them. They both make for fine plays, and the only reason to look elsewhere at quarterback is if you’re seeking a little bit of differentiation because your lineup is heavy on chalk elsewhere. For stacking options, Julio Jones is obviously the top choice for the Falcons, and he’ll have the ownership percentage to go along with it.
As for the Packers, Randall Cobb is the healthiest of the bunch, and that will lead to him being the most popular stacking choice with Rodgers. He’s also a fine play, and he comes in at an incredibly appealing price for a game in which he should see a huge amount of targets. One final chalk note - Devonta Freeman will be popular, but he’s a nice pivot off of LeVeon Bell at a much lower price.
Contrarian: Starting with the Falcons, there’s a few options that will be lesser owned than the big three with some nice upside. Tevin Coleman, Taylor Gabriel and Mohamed Sanu all did their share of damage against the Seahawks last week, and the same should apply for this week’s expected shootout. Coleman is a solid option for salary savings, while Gabriel or Sanu can help differentiate your Ryan stacks. Austin Hooper is an outside the box option, but he hasn’t been receiving the target volume that would make him a risk worth taking.
One way to gain exposure to the Packers offense that will be slightly less popular is by looking towards Ty Montgomery at running back. He’ll have plenty of supporters on this short slate, but it should be noticeably less than Bell and Freeman. If Jared Cook was a little bit cheaper, he’d be a lock for the highest owned tight end of the week. He may still get there, but $5,100 for a tight end may give some users pause for a slate with several high-priced studs that deserve consideration.
For the rest of the passing game options, monitor the injury reports like a hawk. Davante Adams and Geronimo Allison are both banged up and expected to play, but look for clues that indicate whether one is healthier than the other and in line to see more volume as a result. Jeff Janis and Richard Rodgers are other names for those that really want to mix it up, but they amount to dart throws.
Pittsburgh Steelers @ New England Patriots
Chalk: While the signal callers from this tilt should be slightly less popular than the pair from the NFC Championship game, they’ll both have plenty of supporters. No case needs to be made for playing either Tom Brady or Ben Roethlisberger, and you can roster either player at will. When we’re talking about a slate in which there are only four quarterback choices, and those players just happen to be four of the finest in the game at the position, it comes down to a matter of personal preference and how you see the games playing out. Ask yourself this question - if all goes the way I see it, which team will score the most points on Sunday? The answer will likely make the decision at the position a lot clearer for you.
Last week, we advised readers to slightly temper enthusiasm on LeVeon Bell and Antonio Brown. That worked out ok, and we’re going back to the well with that thought. Both players will produce - same as last week - but it will likely not be anything so earth shattering that you’re dead in the water by not rostering them. In fact, fading one or both can really help separate you from the pack, but that’s not a move for the faint of heart as it could blow up quickly. It’s easier to fade Bell due to price concerns, so we’ll let the salary cap be our guide.
For the Patriots, Julian Edelman and Dion Lewis are the biggest chalk outside of Brady. Both players offered stellar returns last week, and we can expect their ownership percentages to reflect that enthusiasm. Interest will be particularly high on Lewis, but we’ll offer up the note of caution that the Patriots are tough to pinpoint for fantasy purposes, as the club loves to zag while everyone is expecting zig. One note on Edelman - he offered up some bulletin board material for the Steelers with an offhanded quote this week. Bill Belichick is not a big fan of things like that, so don’t be stunned if he sits out a series or two. See Wes Welker, 2011 foot comments prior to a playoff game against the Jets for reference.
Contrarian: The slightly outside the box options are limited for this one, but there are a couple. LeGarrette Blount comes to mind for the Patriots due to the club’s aforementioned unpredictability. While Lewis showed he’s more than capable of handling the bulk of the carries last week, it wouldn’t be stunning to see Blount receive more work this week. Chris Hogan and Martellus Bennett received four targets apiece last week, and they are both viable pivots off of Edelman.
Michael Floyd and Malcolm Mitchell are the low-cost punt options to consider, but both carry the risk that goes along with their punt status. For the Steelers, Eli Rogers and Jesse James make the most sense for pivots off of Brown, or as part of a double stack approach. Keep an eye on injury reports for this one as well, as Ladarius Green would instantly become an appealing target if he’s given the green light.
Let’s take a look at some individual picks by position, starting with the signal callers.
Matt Ryan, $7,700. We recommended Ryan last week, and he made us look smart by throwing for 338 yards and three scores. The stars align once again for another solid performance, and we’ll look towards Ryan as the top quarterback choice of the week. There’s little question that points will be scored in this tilt, and there is a high probability of a shootout breaking out in the Georgia Dome. Ryan has been stellar at home all season, and there’s no reason to believe he’ll come up short in his biggest game of the season. The Packers have shown plenty of leaks in the secondary since the playoffs began, and Ryan should have little trouble picking his spots and putting points on the board.
Ben Roethlisberger, $5,800. We can expect Brady and Roethlisberger to be the lowest owned of the four signal callers in this week’s GPPs, but we’ll lean towards the price savings when choosing between the two. The obvious concern is that the Patriots defense will make things difficult for the Steelers as they did for the Texans and Brock Osweiler last week, but there’s also a substantial gap between the quality of those two opponents. While the Texans bring plenty to the table on the defensive front, they are a continent away from the Steelers in terms of offensive production. Expecting the lights-out Steelers offense that we’ve seen a number of times this season is too much to ask for, but a productive performance chock full of fantasy goodness is not.
Devonta Freeman, $7,200. Points will not be hard to come by in this one, and there’s nothing to suggest Freeman will not be productive against the Packers defense. His pass catching upside makes him an appealing target at this price, and he enters the game in fine form coming off of two straight 20+ point performances. As mentioned above, he offers up a tremendous salary savings over the higher-priced Bell, and that pushes our chips to his side of the table in a hurry. The upside is similar if the game script works out in Freeman’s favor, and $3,100 will go a long way towards fitting in another high-priced pass catcher. We’ll look for Freeman to do some damage on both the ground and in the passing game in what should be a tremendously entertaining affair.
LeGarrette Blount, $4,400. Blount was a big letdown last week, as his biggest contribution came in the form of an 18-yard gain when the game was well at hand. The Patriots rode Lewis for virtually the entire game against the Texans, and we can expect his ownership percentage to be through the roof. That points us to Blount as a slightly contrarian selection, but he obviously carries some risk. All that being said, the Patriots love to mix things up and bring the unexpected, so it’s not out of the question for us to see a ball control style game plan that leans heavily on Blount. A shootout with the Steelers is not an appealing prospect regardless of your team’s talent level, so at a bare minimum we’ll expect Blount to see some more work as the Patriots look to keep things under control.
Julio Jones, $8,200. Dez Bryant abused the Packers secondary last week, and Odell Beckham Jr. could have done similar the week before if he hauled a few more in. Hauling several in will not be an issue for Jones, as he will see a wealth of volume in a game that has shootout written all over it. There’s massive upside for Jones on a fast track, but we’ll throw in the caveat that he’s been held out of practice this week due to a lingering toe issue. We’ll assume he’s a full go at perhaps slightly less than top speed this late in the season, but a player of the caliber of Jones at 90 percent efficiency is still more than enough for a productive fantasy outing.
Randall Cobb, $5,900. The Packers wide receiver corps represents an infirmary unit at this point, and we can expect Cobb to be leaned on heavily. Even if Adams manages to give it a go at close to full strength, Cobb still represents a tremendous value at this price. The salary makers at DraftKings have not bumped his price up too much over last week, and we’ll take full advantage of the pricing inefficiency. Besides the pricing, Cobb has seen 15 targets sail in his direction over the past two weeks, and double digit targets for this game alone is not out of the question - and we can all but guarantee it if Adams or Allison is unable to give it a go.
Jared Cook, $5,100. Cook is another player that stands to benefit from the banged up Packers receivers, but he’s been producing in his own right as well. He saved his best game as a member of the Packers to date for last week’s game against the Cowboys, and his stellar late game catch was the cherry on top of a fantastic day. A line of 6/103/1 again may be a little too much to ask for, but it’s possible if he sees 11 targets once again. Either way, Cook looks like the clear cut top option at the position this week, it just comes down to whether or not you can fit his hefty salary in.
Jesse James, $2,700. If you’re looking to go the salary relief route at tight end instead, take a gander at James, who quietly put together a solid game last week against the Chiefs. The Patriots were slightly fantasy friendly to C.J. Fiedorowicz last week, and James may have solidified himself as the best option on the Steelers when the ball is not in the hands of Brown or Bell after hauling in five of six targets for 83 yards. While the upside is not tremendous with James by any means, it also doesn’t take too much for him to deliver a nice return on his low salary. We’ll look for that to happen, and also enjoy the much needed salary savings.
Pittsburgh Steelers, $2,300. There are no grind it out affairs on the docket for this weekend, so it certainly makes sense to save some money at defense. The Patriots check in at a price of $4,000, and while there’s some potential upside for their home matchup, it’s likely not enough to justify the salary outlay. That leads us to look towards the lower cost options that can generate pressure and potentially force a turnover or two, and the Steelers fit the bill. Tom Brady uncharacteristically threw a pair of picks last week, and while looking for that to happen again is being greedy, asking for one os more than reasonable.
Atlanta Falcons, $2,200. For the other matchup on the slate, the Falcons make more sense due to the home field advantage, as well as the fact that they delivered a nice performance last week against the Seahawks. Holding the Packers offense in check is likely out of the question with the way Aaron Rodgers has been playing, but forcing a few turnovers and potentially a defensive score on the fast track is within the realm of possibility. Add in the fact that a banged up Packers receiver corps could lead to some hesitation in the pocket, and the Falcons may be able to get through and put more pressure on Rodgers than he’s accustomed to.
Thanks for reading throughout the season, and I hope you've enjoyed this column as much as I enjoy putting it together for you each week. Enjoy the games and best of luck with your lineups! Feel free to hit me up anytime on Twitter - @cm_feery - or email - firstname.lastname@example.org - with questions or comments.