DraftKings GPP Domination: Conference Championships - Footballguys

Looking for edges in Conference Championship DraftKings tournaments.

Before digging in to this week’s games and GPP options, take a moment to refresh yourself on tips for short slate tournaments. Game theory trumps player and matchup knowledge in large fields most weeks, but this is particularly true on two-game slates.

LA Rams @ New Orleans

Rams @ Saints
Opening Vegas Implied Total 26.75 30.25
Points Per Game 32.8 30.8
Opponent Points Per Game 23.9 21.6
Situation Neutral Pace Rank 3 13

THE CHALK

You want exposure to these guys, but so do most of your opponents.

  • Drew Brees ($5,900) - At $700 less than Patrick Mahomes II and with no threat of arctic game conditions in the Superdome, Brees figures to be the most popular quarterback on the slate by the narrowest of margins. Brees’ lowest output in a home game this season was 17.62 DraftKings points all the way back in Week 2. He is every bit as safe as Mahomes, but the game conditions and opposing defense combine to give Brees a slightly higher probability of a ceiling game (even if we haven’t seen one in a while). If you’re making 10 lineups, Brees belongs in three or four.
  • Alvin Kamara ($6,500) - Kamara’s price borders on absurd considering he shares a 40+ point ceiling with Todd Gurley ($7,500), Michael Thomas ($8,200), and Tyreek Hill ($7,700). He was surprisingly bottled up against the Eagles last week, but Kamara still touched the ball 20 times and his day would have looked much different if his 46-yard third-quarter touchdown reception hadn’t been overturned. The Rams linebackers have struggled in coverage against running backs all season, including against Kamara himself back in Week 9 (116 total yards and three touchdowns). If Kamara isn’t the focus of the Saints game plan this week, it would be an abject failure. Make him your highest overall exposure.
  • Todd Gurley ($7,500) - How the crowd reacts to the possibility Gurley is now a timeshare back is one of the more interesting storylines on this slate. We heard Joe Buck say on last Sunday’s telecast Sean McVay was concerned about Gurley’s cardio conditioning and the plan was to ease him in back into action. Be that as it may, C.J. Anderson’s continued effectiveness made it an easy decision for McVay not to overload Gurley in his first game action since Week 15. No one knows for sure how LA’s backfield work will get dispersed this week, but it’s hard to imagine Gurley getting back to 30+ touches with Anderson coming off three consecutive games with at least 125 rushing yards. Complicating matters is the Saints defense -- the only unit in the NFL that didn’t allow over 1,000 total rushing yards to opposing running backs during the regular season. Unlike most weeks, if you’re rostering Gurley, it’s with the hope LA is forced into a negative game script. He’s a far better receiver than Anderson and could rack up PPR points if the Rams are playing from behind. Gurley’s upside remains elite, but the probability you need to have him for a first-place finish is no higher than 30%, which is likely lower than his percent rostered.
  • Michael Thomas ($8,200) - Thomas is the most expensive -- and likely to be the chalkiest -- player on the slate, but don’t let that sway you from playing him in at least half your lineups. While the Rams pass defense improved substantially following the Week 13 return of cornerback Aqib Talib, there simply isn’t another receiver in this week’s player pool who can reasonably be projected for 15 (high-quality) targets. Maybe the presence of Talib prevents Thomas from the type of monstrous game he hung on the Rams in Week 9 (15-12-211-1), but LA hasn’t typically assigned a cornerback to a specific wide receiver when both Talib and Marcus Peters have been active this year. Even if the Rams change their game plan and Talib shadows, the advantage still goes to Thomas, whose expert route running and strength at the catch point are a challenge for any cornerback in the league to defend. A second-consecutive ceiling game is in play and it is pointless to stack Brees without Thomas.
  • Robert Woods ($5,700) - Woods has a significant skill advantage over Saints slot corner P.J. Williams. DraftKings priced down LA’s wide receivers for a second-straight week, making both Woods and Brandin Cooks a little too easy to fit into full game stacks next to Brees, Kamara, and Thomas. If the Rams are forced to abandon the run and the game comes anywhere close to its implied total, both LA receivers are positioned to exceed 4x salary multiples.
  • Brandin Cooks ($5,300) - See Woods, Robert. But also add in more big-play potential, a lower salary, revenge motivation against the first team to give up on him, and a great career track record in the Superdome.
  • Saints Defense ($2,700) - New Orleans is a home favorite and Jared Goff is more mistake prone than the only other road quarterback on the slate. If you have thoughts on a dominant Saints win, stacking their defense with Mark Ingram II makes sense.

LEVERAGE PLAYS

If the implied game script goes wonky or the chalk busts, these guys can lead you to a win.

  • Jared Goff ($5,400) - Goff busted as a leverage play (and GPP Domination cover boy) last week against the Cowboys. He’ll go overlooked relative to his upside again this week, only now he’s in an infinitely better matchup (albeit on the road). It should always raise an eyebrow when a quarterback isn’t projected as chalky while more than one of his receivers are among the most popular on the slate, and Goff has several paths to a ceiling game against the Saints. New Orleans can get out to a big lead and force the Rams into a pass-heavy game script. Sean McVay, who most people credit as an offensive genius, could take the path of least resistance against the Saints defense and come out throwing. And the possibility exists Goff simply has a strong game against a pass-funnel defense that allowed the third-most fantasy points to opposing quarterbacks during the regular season. If you’re making 10 lineups, Goff belongs in at least three.
  • Mark Ingram II ($4,600) - The Rams did a phenomenal job containing Ezekiel Elliott in last week’s Divisional Round, but were generally bullied by enemy running backs down the stretch. If you think the Saints win and cover the spread, you’ll want to come in overweight on Ingram, who can conceivably hog the touchdowns at the expense of Brees, Thomas, and Kamara.
  • C.J. Anderson ($5,000) - Despite scoring at least 26 fantasy points in each of his three games as a member of the Rams, Anderson’s price was barely adjusted from last week, which likely reflects the crowd’s hesitation to trust him with Gurley back in action. Anderson remains a leverage play on the chance he can keep up his rock-solid efficiency (6.4 yards per attempt) and touchdown production (1.3 per game) on a reduced workload, but the matchup against the Saints rush defense is an obstacle. This week isn’t one to chase points with Anderson, even if we could have said the same thing last week and been completely wrong.
  • Ted Ginn Jr ($4,300) - Michael Gallup was highlighted in this space last week as the preferred play over Amari Cooper due to his individual matchup with Rams cornerback Marcus Peters. Per Pro Football Focus, 109 of Gallup’s 119 receiving yards came when he was covered by Peters in the Divisional Round. With Talib likely to stick to Thomas more than he would normally follow a single receiver, it should be Ginn in Peters’ favorable coverage for most of the game. Thomas was able to burn Peters on a 72-yard scoring play in the Week 9 meeting between these teams and Ginn makes his living downfield. He is one of the better point-per-dollar plays on the slate and has tremendous upside given the matchup.
  • Josh Reynolds ($4,200) - While on the topic of soft coverage, Saints cornerback Eli Apple always warrants mention. It’s Reynolds who should enjoy lining up across from Apple on at least half his snaps, giving him about as strong a chance as any non-Cooks Rams wide receiver at breaking a big play. If you’re rostering Reynolds, it’s with hopes of either high volume or high efficiency from Goff, so it makes sense to use him at relatively low ownership as the last piece of your Rams stacks.
  • Rams Defense ($2,300) - The public expects the Saints offense to go off in this game, which makes the Rams a worthy contrarian option. LA has playmakers at nearly every level of their defense and the Saints haven’t protected Brees as well lately as they did early in the season. If you’re scripting a Rams win, chances are defensive tackle Aaron Donald plays a major role keeping Brees off balance.

IN THE MIX

These guys come in above the “click and a prayer” cutoff line.

  • Tre'Quan Smith ($3,600) - Keith Kirkwood has been ruled out with a calf injury, opening up snaps for Smith. With two games of 29+ DraftKings points this season, it's conceivable he can swing GPPs.
  • Josh Hill ($2,500) - Hill is a contrarian play with the potential to win you the slate. With Travis Kelce and (to a much lesser extent) Rob Gronkowski seemingly the only viable tight ends to choose from, Hill will be found on 3-5% of rosters -- an incredibly low rate for a two-game slate. He was on the field for 62% of the Saints offensive snaps last week and appears safe for three or four targets against the Rams bottom-10 tight end defense. If half of those targets were to come in the red zone and Kelce (or Gronkowski) busts, you’ll need Hill on your team for a shot at first place. Benjamin Watson scratching only helps Hill's chances.
  • Tyler Higbee ($2,600) or Gerald Everett ($2,700) - See Hill, Josh. If one of the Rams tight ends were to get in the end zone while Kelce and/or Gronkowski get held in check, the result would be the same. Picking which one is the tricky part, however, and the Saints were awfully stingy against opposing tight ends this year. Even though Higbee was more productive last week, Everett ran more pass routes and remains the preferred option by a slight margin.

New England @ Kansas City

Patriots @ Chiefs
Opening Vegas Implied Total 27.25 30.25
Points Per Game 28.1 35.1
Opponent Points Per Game 20.8 25.5
Situation Neutral Pace Rank 1 6

THE CHALK

You want exposure to these guys, but so do most of your opponents.

  • Patrick Mahomes II ($6,600) - From a raw points perspective, there really isn’t an argument against Mahomes as the top quarterback on the slate. While the air temperature will be frigid in Kansas City, there is no heavy wind in the forecast, and Mahomes looked fine last week playing in the snow. The reason he showed us his floor (17.92 DraftKings points) against Indianapolis had more to do with Kansas City getting out to an early lead and the Colts struggling to fight back than the weather conditions. Mahomes is the same player who exceeded a 4x multiple of his current salary in 68% of his games this season, he’s at home, and facing a defense ill-equipped to match up against the speed of his pass-catchers. 30-40% exposure is a requirement on this slate.
  • Damien Williams ($6,400) - It’s hard to believe with Gurley and Kamara available, but Williams might be the only running back on the slate with a three-down plus goal-line role. New England can be run on and their linebackers are slow in pass coverage. Williams is a home favorite bell cow with 29 or more DraftKings points in three of his four starts this season, but his price doesn’t reflect his elite production and situation. Whether the Chiefs win or lose, it’s hard to envision a scenario where Williams is a non-factor. He should be right up there with Kamara as one of your top exposures.
  • James White ($5,400) - White’s absurd 17-target game in the Divisional Round was a function of the Patriots game planning to neutralize the Chargers pass-rush. We shouldn’t expect another 15+ targets for White (or any running back) this week, but the Chiefs aren’t slouches getting after the quarterback, as evidenced by 14 sacks in their last four games. The odds White sees double-digit targets again this week are about a coin flip, making him likely to go under-owned by about 15%. While he’ll be plenty popular, White offers a bit of leverage on the popularity of Gurley, Williams, and Kamara.
  • Julian Edelman ($6,600) - Double-digit targets for Edelman is more or less chiseled in granite. He looked explosive last week (16.8 yards per catch) and is the unquestioned WR1 in a game New England must pass the ball succesfully to win. While his ceiling doesn’t rival that of Woods or Cooks, who are available for less, there is something to be said for Edelman’s safe 15-25 DraftKings points on a two-game slate. 35% exposure seems about right and will likely put you under the field.
  • Tyreek Hill ($7,700) - Hill was targeted 13 times last week and broke off a 36-yard touchdown run (his second rushing touchdown in as many games). His ceiling in any given game is 40+ DraftKings points, which is about what he hung on the Patriots in their Week 6 meeting in Foxborough (12-7-142-3). New England lacks the requisite speed to defend Hill, putting him in play for another top-10% outcome. At about 15% lower ownership than Thomas, making Hill your top wide receiver exposure could give you an edge if Thomas disappoints.
  • Travis Kelce ($7,100) - Kelce is the only tight end on the slate whose range of outcomes doesn’t include 0-2 DraftKings points. He’ll be found on over 50% of rosters as a result, which makes him the most important player to get right on the entire slate. On one hand, of course he should be played. If Kelce were to score 25+ DraftKings points, something he accomplished in a quarter of his games this season, there is no way to make up those points from another tight end. But on the other hand, tight end scoring is volatile. Even Kelce has a 1.6-point performance on his resume this season. It’s also worth noting New England has schemed to keep Kelce from beating them in their last two meetings, holding him to receiving lines of 7-5-40 and 9-5-61, respectively. If Kelce busts relative to his salary, fading him gains you leverage on half the field. It’s a strategy that has to be considered on such a small slate. Top out at 30-35% exposure.
  • Rob Gronkowski ($4,100) - Gronkowski is the only tight end besides Kelce anyone will be able to stomach on their rosters. He’ll be over-owned as a result, but is still a worthy pivot off Kelce. We saw a glimmer of vintage Gronkowski on a 25-yard reception vs. the Chargers, but unfortunately it was his only catch of the game. Given how susceptible Kansas City is to tight end production, however, this is a game where it makes sense for New England to force-feed Gronkowski as much as possible. The Chiefs closed out the regular season by allowing 68% more fantasy points than league average to opposing tight ends. Gronkowski averaged over 30 yards per reception against Kansas City in Week 6, and if he has one more throwback performance in him, this would be the matchup to bring it out.
  • Chiefs Defense ($2,500) - They’re having success getting to the quarterback, which is precisely how you keep Brady off balance in a road playoff game.

LEVERAGE PLAYS

If the implied game script goes wonky or the chalk busts, these guys can lead you to a win.

  • Tom Brady ($5,800) - Brady is a potential leverage play only because he’ll be the least popular quarterback on the slate. But something about pinning your hopes on a 41-year-old quarterback playing on the road in 10-degree weather feels all sorts of wrong, even if he is Tom Brady. Maybe Brady can withstand the Chiefs pass-rush and hang with Mahomes in a shootout, but there is a stronger chance he ends up looking more like the quarterback who failed to exceed 20 DraftKings points in any game from Weeks 8-13. If you’re making 10 lineups, Brady doesn’t belong on more than one.
  • Sony Michel ($5,600) - Like Brady, Michel is more of a fade than a true leverage play. Sure, if he goes off again, your team will shoot up the standings, but what is the likelihood of Michel reaching a top one percent outcome for a second straight game? As we saw with Marlon Mack last week, game flow trumps matchup for running backs who aren’t involved in the passing game. Michel needs a positive game script to come anywhere close to his ceiling and isn’t likely to find one on the road at Arrowhead. Play White over him every time.
  • Sammy Watkins ($4,000) - Watkins looked healthy in his return from a foot injury last week, catching six of eight targets for 62 yards, including a 35-yard reception on a deep crossing route. For some reason, DraftKings dropped his price by $500 despite the fact he emerged from the game no worse for the wear. The low price-point will inflate his ownership, but Mahomes-Watkins stacks that don’t use Hill or Kelce offer enough upside and massive leverage potential.
  • Patriots Defense ($2,100) - If you think the Patriots return to the Super Bowl, it won’t be because they won a shootout on the road in Kansas City.

IN THE MIX

These guys come in above the “click and a prayer” cutoff line.

  • Rex Burkhead ($3,600) - Burkhead scored on a seven-yard reception last week, proving his red zone role remains intact. There aren’t any other players on the slate available for less than $4K with a reasonable chance at a multi-touchdown game, even if it is only a remote possibility.
  • Chris Hogan ($3,700) - Hogan continues to see the field on nearly every one of Brady’s dropbacks. He was quiet last week, but the matchup against Kansas City isn’t nearly as difficult as it was against the Chargers secondary, and the Patriots will have to pass more to stay in this game.
  • Phillip Dorsett ($3,900) - One of the biggest beneficiaries of Josh Gordon’s suspension, Dorsett has scored in back-to-back games and has the speed to get behind the Chiefs secondary. If Brady defies the odds and has a big game, a deep touchdown to Dorsett could be a reason why.
  • Chris Conley ($3,500) - OK, so Conley is a “click and a prayer”, but New England can’t cover everyone.