JOHNNIE WALKER BLUE LABEL (TOP SHELF PLAYS)
Aaron Rodgers ($8,800) - The Panthers have let up at least 289 passing yards and two TD passes in each of their last three games. Over his last three, Aaron Rodgers has thrown 10 touchdowns and zero interceptions. Vegas has the Packers scoring about 28 points, and 79% of their TDs have come via the pass this season. Another three TD day for Rodgers at home is a likely outcome.
Cam Newton ($8,200) - It may seem a bit reactionary to endorse Newton at this price, but how do you not empty your wallet for a QB who just posted a 17-107-1 rushing line? The Panthers will get Jonathan Stewart back this week, and offensive coordinator Mike Shula did (kind of) say he ran Newton too much last week, but I still like Cam to pad his passing stats with a big rushing day against the Packers. Only Cincinnati and Washington have let up more rushing yards to opposing QBs than Green Bay this season. Russell Wilson, Geno Smith, Jay Cutler, and Ryan Tannehill all ran for over 25 yards against them. Newton proved beyond question last week he can win you a tournament when he’s deployed as a dual threat. Given the matchup, he’s this week’s highest ceiling QB.
Drew Brees ($8,100) - It feels odd calling Drew Brees a contrarian tournament play, but I expect him to qualify as one this week. The crowd will likely fade Brees due to a combination of factors - he hasn’t been great this season (QB8), he’s in a tough road matchup (Detroit allows the least fantasy PPG to opposing QBs), his best weapon (Jimmy Graham) is unlikely to play, he’s pricy, and the Saints are coming off a bye (out of sight, out of mind).
I would probably side with the masses if not for our Game Log Dominator. In three career games against the Lions since joining the Saints, Brees has averaged 350 passing yards and 3.6 TDs. It may prove nothing more than a coincidence, but New Orleans-Detroit does have this week’s second highest over/under (49.5), and there’s a certain comfort in playing an elite QB coming off a bye (see Peyton Manning in Week 5). Brees’ floor is much lower than usual this week, so consider him strictly as a home run swing, just in case there’s anything to those splits versus the Lions.
Giovani Bernard ($7,800) - With DeMarco Murray ($9,600) and Matt Forte ($9,400) priced out of the stratosphere, Bernard looks awfully appealing playing on a fast track in Indy. The Colts trail only Atlanta in RB TDs allowed (7), and Bernard is tied for the league lead in carries from inside the opposing team’s 10 yard line (11). The Bengals have scored via the run on 50% of their red zone TDs, the fourth highest rate in the league. In a game Vegas expects to be close (Colts -3) and high scoring (o/u 49), Bernard has multi-TD upside.
Jamaal Charles ($6,700) - Charles at $6,700 is my favorite DraftKings play of the week (does he even belong in the Blue Label tier at this price?). On the surface, San Diego represents a neutral rushing matchup, but I expect Charles to do serious damage as a receiver in this one. The Chargers have allowed the most receptions (41), receiving TDs (4), and fifth most receiving yards (309) to RBs. As Steve Buzzard pointed out last week, creating game scripts when building your GPP lineups is an important strategy. My script for this game starts with Andy Reid taking the bye week to figure out he needs to get back to what worked for him last season - namely 22 total touches per game for Jamaal Charles.
Jordy Nelson ($8,200) - If Aaron Rodgers has the the big game I expect, you’re going to hear the announcers calling Jordy’s name all afternoon. Nelson leads the NFL in both percent of team targets (35.42%) and percent of team receptions (34.4%). As I noted earlier, the matchup against the Panthers is a good one. Carolina has given up huge PPR games to Antonio Brown (10-90-2), Steve Smith (7-139-2), Alshon Jeffery (6-97-1), and Mohamed Sanu (11-120-1) this season.
No High Priced TE - There are really only three tight ends who qualify for the Blue Label tier on a weekly basis - Graham, Gronk, and Julius Thomas. With Graham unlikely to play, Gronk playing before this article is published, and Thomas matched up against a 49ers defense that defends tight ends well, I’ll be looking elsewhere at TE in Sunday contests.
Bills Defense ($3,400) - Buffalo is tied for the league lead in sacks, and they play at home this week, against a rookie QB who’s been sacked 10 times in two career starts. Teddy Bridgewater sports a mediocre completion percentage (62.5%), and a 0:3 TD:INT ratio, so turnovers are also likely. Buffalo’s floor may be low double digit fantasy points in this game.
JACK DANIELS (MODERATELY PRICED PLAYS)
Russell Wilson ($6,800) - Wilson’s price is down $800 on DraftKings, a week after the Seahawks put up a collective dud against the Cowboys at home. I’ll gladly take the discount in a plus matchup against St. Louis, considering Wilson hadn’t dipped below 17.88 fantasy points in any other game this season. You’ll recall Colin Kaepernick lit up the Rams (343-3 plus 3-37 rushing) Monday night, but you may not realize St. Louis has allowed at least two TDs to every QB they’ve faced this season, except for terrible Josh McCown back in Week 2.
Andre Ellington ($6,500) - Ellington is a safe cash game play against the Raiders this week, though given his price and opponent, he may be too widely owned for tournaments. Since the Cardinals came out of their bye two weeks ago, Ellington ranks as the PPR RB5, on the strength of 22.5 total touches per game. There aren’t too many backs, given that type of workload, who would struggle to post a big day on Oakland (fifth most fantasy points allowed to opposing RBs).
Justin Forsett ($5,600) - The Falcons have allowed more total yards and TDs to RBs than any team in the league (and it’s not close). Forsett’s price on DraftKings (RB12) still hasn’t caught up to his production (PPR RB8). Vegas likes Baltimore to score 28 points this week, so there’s plenty of room for a TD to go along with Forsett’s usual solid yardage totals.
Fred Jackson ($5,500) - C.J. Spiller was barely a rumor last week, playing a season low 17% of the Bills’ offensive snaps. Fred Jackson has taken control of Buffalo’s backfield, and like Forsett, he’s not properly valued on DraftKings. The Vikings have been gashed by Eddie Lacy (13-105-2) and Joique Bell (18-74-1) in back to back weeks (not exactly a pair of RBs who have otherwise lit the world on fire), and now travel to Buffalo, where their inexperienced QB figures to struggle against a tough defense. The Bills should be able to stick with their desired game plan (i.e. running the ball) throughout the entire game, which points to another solid day for Jackson.
Ben Tate ($5,300) - Since Tate returned from injury two weeks ago, DeMarco Murray is the only RB to receive more carries. The Jaguars defense has surrendered the third most fantasy points per game to opposing backs, and Cleveland runs the ball on 52% of their offensive plays (second only to Houston). Out of all the similarly priced RBs I’ve mentioned in the Jack Daniels tier, Tate has the highest ceiling, highest floor, and lowest cost.
Brandon Marshall ($6,300) - Our pals over at Football Outsiders put together this useful chart that ranks each team’s defensive performance against WR1s, WR2s, and all other receivers. You’ll notice Miami ranks 29th at limiting opposing WR1s, making Marshall an even stronger play than usual this week. I’m shocked his price remained stagnant on DraftKings after he proved his health by dropping a 6-113 line on the Falcons last Sunday.
Golden Tate ($5,900) - There were only seven players on more rosters in last week’s Millionaire Maker tourney than Golden Tate, who disappointed with seven catches for 44 yards. Hopefully the lousy game moves the crowd off of Tate, who’s got a juicy matchup this week. New Orleans allows the fourth most fantasy points per game to opposing wide receivers, and Tate (12 targets last week) will continue to be targeted relentlessly by Matthew Stafford for as long as Calvin Johnson remains on the shelf.
Cecil Shorts III ($5,400) - No team has struggled to contain opposing WR1s more than the Browns this year, and Shorts is undoubtedly Jacksonville’s top wideout. In the two full games Shorts has played this season, he’s seen 34.2% of his team’s targets - a share that would put him behind only Jordy Nelson and Andre Johnson for the league lead. Even if he draws Joe Haden in coverage this week, it’s no cause for concern. QBs have a 132.7 rating when targeting Haden this season, fifth worst among qualifying CBs. A repeat of last week’s 16 targets is asking a lot, but I’d be surprised if Shorts doesn’t see at least double digit targets with Jacksonville in perpetual comeback/garbage time mode.
James Jones ($5,100) - Jones is appropriately priced this week (he’s both the PPR WR25 and 25th most expensive WR on DraftKings), but I like his chances of exploiting a beatable Arizona secondary. He's run 49.7% of his routes from the slot this season, the most of any Oakland receiver. Jerraud Powers, who covers the slot for Arizona, leads the league in receptions, receiving yards, and YAC allowed while in slot coverage. Andre Holmes ($4,800) is clearly the high upside tournament play, but it’s Jones you want in your cash game lineups.
Travis Kelce ($4,800) - Andy Reid has made good use of the bye week in his career (13-1 lifetime record following a bye), so perhaps he set aside time to reconsider Travis Kelce’s snapcount. What Kelce has managed while playing only 47% of KC’s offensive snaps is astounding. He somehow leads all Kansas City receivers in target share (17.42%), and has scored a TD in three consecutive games. If this is the week Kelce finally sees starter’s snaps, he’ll be a tournament winner. If not, he’s proven he can reach value at this price anyway.
Seahawks Defense ($3,200) - In most formats, Seattle has scored less fantasy points this season than Tampa Bay, Minnesota, and Atlanta to name a few. The result is that their price is palatable this week in a matchup with Austin Davis, who was sacked five times last week (and 15 times through five games). Davis is also making a habit of throwing TD passes to the wrong team - he now has two pick-sixes in the last three games.
LIMOUSINE LIQUOR (DIRT CHEAP PLAYS)
Alex Smith ($6,000) - I may have been suckered in by the “Andy Reid following a bye week” narrative, but there are tangible reasons I like Alex Smith this week as well. I already pointed out how Jamaal Charles should thrive in the short passing game, which obviously benefits Smith. He’ll also be facing a banged up Chargers secondary that was just fleeced by Derek Carr (282-4). Brandon Flowers (PFF’s top rated cover corner) is nursing a groin injury, and stud rookie CB Jason Verrett is unlikely to play with a strained hamstring. For what it’s worth, Smith put up 294 passing yards and three TDs in his only matchup with San Diego last season. He’s my preferred QB punt play for tourney lineups.
Jake Locker ($5,700) - It’s a good sign Jake Locker “did everything” at practice Wednesday, because the Redskins are not a matchup he’ll want to miss. Washington has allowed the most fantasy PPG to opposing QBs this season, and 11 TD passes in their last four games. Rusty, bum-shouldered Carson Palmer was able to put up 250 yards and two TDs against Washington last week, so I’m not too concerned about rusty, bum-thumbed Jake Locker, who looked good when we last saw him in Week 5. Just keep an eye on Friday’s practice report to make sure Locker is playing.
Eddie Lacy ($4,700) - It won’t feel great trotting Lacy out there now that he’s splitting snaps evenly with James Starks, but he’s never been cheaper, is the preferred option at the goal line, and has the best matchup of any RB not named Justin Forsett. Carolina has been obliterated in the past month by every RB who’s carried the ball against them (even LaGarrette Blount dropped a 10-118-1 line on them in Week 3). Lacy has multi-TD potential in this game and shouldn’t be heavily owned in tournaments.
Isaiah Crowell ($4,000) - Those in the draft community who claimed Crowell was the most talented back in this year’s rookie class are looking awfully sharp. The undrafted rookie free agent has looked absolutely explosive, averaging 5.4 YPA on the season. I wouldn’t expect more than the 11-77-1 line he dropped on Pittsburgh last week, but given Cleveland’s commitment to the run, Jacksonville’s lousy defense, and the potential for favorable game script, a repeat performance is a strong possibility.
Jonathan Stewart ($3,700) - I feel obligated to mention Stewart is the cheapest RB likely to receive a starter’s workload, and he’s got a great matchup against the Packers. None of the backs who were given a shot in Stewart’s absence were able to distinguish themselves, and now they’re all hurt anyway. It looks like Chris Ogbannaya will be Carolina’s only available backup this week, so 15 carries seems likely for J-Stew. In the only other game in which Stewart saw 15 carries this season, he put up 12.9 fantasy points on DraftKings (vs. Detroit).
Robert Woods ($4,300) - Mike Williams’ disappearance from the Bills’ WR depth chart is good news for Woods, who saw a team high 10 targets last week. While many of those looks were likely due to Darrelle Revis erasing Sammy Watkins from the Bills’ game plan, it was encouraging to see Woods turn the opportunity into a 7-78-1 line. This week he’ll be matched up in the slot with Captain Munnerlyn who’s tied for most TDs allowed while in slot coverage (3).
Justin Hunter ($3,700) - Hunter has played more snaps than any Tennessee WR over the last two weeks, and averaged a solid (if unspectacular) five targets, three catches, 88 yards, and .5 TDs in the small sample. If there was ever a week a Locker-Hunter stack could win you a GPP, it’s this week vs. Washington. I wouldn’t even rule Hunter out of cash game lineups if I needed a cheap WR or flex - at least we know he’ll be on the field and part of the game plan against a rotten pass defense.
Larry Donnell ($3,500) - 21% of the Giants’ targets are up for grabs in the wake of Victor Cruz’s season ending injury, and I would expect Donnell to pick up at least some of the slack. If you’ve read this column this season, you’re aware Dallas is the best matchup for opposing tight ends, despite Garrett Graham and Luke Willson combining for three catches and 14 yards against them in the last two weeks. Donnell should be lightly owned after putting up a pair of duds in his last two games, making him an ideal GPP play.
RUBBING ALCOHOL (MINIMUM PLAYS)
Coby Fleener ($3,000) - Teammate Dwayne Allen gets a lot of credit for being Andrew Luck’s red zone binky, but the Data Dominator says Fleener has received eight RZ looks to Allen’s seven this season. The Bengals have let up the second most fantasy points to opposing tight ends this season, and come into this game having allowed three TDs to the position in the last two weeks. It won’t take much more than a cheap score (in a potentially high scoring game) for Fleener to pay off his minimum salary.
Corey Fuller ($3,000) - Fuller was the second most targeted Detroit wide receiver in Calvin Johnson’s absence last week. He was only able to turn his five targets into two catches for 12 yards, but I’m expecting the home matchup against the Saints to yield better results for the entire Detroit passing game. Nine PPR points are well within Fuller’s reach this week.