Greetings and welcome to Week 13! What follows is a weekly strategy guide covering the main slate of FanDuel guaranteed prize pools (GPPs). It will be available every Friday from now until the Super Bowl.
Thoughts on Chalk
Even though creating roster uniqueness has long been the default strategy for GPPs, there’s a reason why certain players hold the confidence of the public. Remember that fading a player simply because he’s popular checks in as one of the worst processes. You wouldn’t build a lineup full of chalk; nor should you ignore a great situation in the name of contrarianism. With that said, this section will be dedicated to finding reasons why you might consider fading the players listed below. Keep in mind that all of these players are expected to have big games, so outright fades are never recommended, and be sure to check out Steve Buzzard’s percent rostered projections.
QB: Patrick Mahomes II - $9,500
One of the keys to this slate is determining if you can survive without fantasy football’s most productive player. Mahomes has failed to surpass at least 25 points only three times this year and has scored fewer than 20 only once. Up next is a cake road-game against Oakland and a defense that has allowed 24 touchdown passes on a league-low 306 attempts. Those numbers translate to the second-most FanDuel points per attempts allowed behind only Detroit.
But we do need to consider that only 22.9% of the fantasy points they’ve allowed have gone to quarterbacks, which ranks 19th among all teams. There’s a chance that Kareem Hunt soaks up a pair of scores and that Mahomes his held to his floor of 20ish points. Not that we’d ever complain about getting 20 points from any player, but his cost and projected ownership percentage make him less of GPP requirement and more of a guy we want to have some exposure to but not build our lineups around. Plus, with Derek Carr and Co. on the other side, this game could easily tilt towards the Chiefs’ defense logging a solid score and Mahomes getting pulled not long after the second half.
QB: Cam Newton - $8,700
Challenging Mahomes for Most Popular Quarterback honors, Newton checks into Week 13 fresh off posting his eighth game of at least 21 FanDuel points. That point total would have been a lot higher with better red zone efficiency. Newton came up just short of a fourth down scramble deep in Seattle territory and later threw a drive-killing interception. As it stands, the Panthers boast one of the most efficient offenses in the NFL and take on one of the least efficient defenses in the NFL.
The Buccaneers are regulars in this space for quarterback targets. But they looked a lot better last week against a raw Nick Mullens and will field a healthier defense this week. Not that it matters. Newton has one of the highest floors of all players and could absolutely wreck this slate, especially if he stays active as a rusher. If you’re rostering a chalk quarterback, he makes the most sense given that his opponent should help push this game toward its 54.5-point over/under and force volume. Of all positions, eating chalk at quarterback typically works out.
RB: Christian McCaffrey - $8,800
Since Week 8, no running back has scored more fantasy point, logged more total yards, scored more touchdowns, or drawn more red zone opportunities than McCaffrey. Any questions aimed at his ceiling and upside were officially answered last week when he turned 11 targets and 17 carries into 237 combined yards and two touchdowns. It was one of the greatest performances by a running back this season and it came against a decent Seattle defense. Now he gets a Buccaneers’ defense that handed Matt Breida 7.5 yards per carry last week, allowed Saquon Barkley to visit the end zone three times while racking 152 total yards in Week 11, and allowed McCaffrey to score 30.2 FanDuel points the last time these teams met. All told, the Bucs are the league’s third-softest run defense from a points per touch standpoint, and rank seventh in points per game allowed.
Combining the matchup and recent production, it makes sense to project McCaffrey as the most popular back of the slate. And searching for reasons to fade him is fool’s errand. You could point to their efficiency against the run; they rank 16th in both yards per carry and rushing yards allowed. Or you could point to their recent performance against the 49ers where, even though they allowed Breida to rush for over 100 yards, they also logged four sacks and allowed only nine points. Perhaps that’ll be a turning point for this defense, which hopes to get back linebacker Lavonte David and safety Justin Evans—a pair of solid defenders that have missed the last two games. That’s where the well runs dry. McCaffrey is a locked-in upside play with a 35-point ceiling. He’s a tough fade even though GPP game theory urges us to do so.
WR: Corey Davis - $5,900
When pressed about why the Titans’ stopped feeding Davis in the second half of last week’s game, head coach Mike Vrabel said that the Texans shifted to a Cover 2 defense.
It was an odd comment considering, as Kuharksy noted on the Midday 180, that’s the exact kind of defense that Davis burned when the Titans played the Patriots. To that end, there are plenty of ways to beat every kind of coverage, so Vrabel’s response makes zero sense. Regardless, Davis’s ceiling will always be capped because of how this offense runs and because Marcus Mariota is such an up-and-down passer. He’s quick to move to the check-down option when he feels the first or second read isn’t open. And as much as we like to believe that Davis should always be the first read, that’s not how football works. He beats his defender regularly yet ranks 27th among wide receivers in receptions since Week 8 despite his market share, which ranks sixth.
The matchup this week looks promising. The Jets have allowed more yards to wide receivers than all but three other teams despite not facing a schedule of reliable passing attacks. This is a situation worth targeting, especially since Davis’s price makes a lot of things possible, but be cautious with how many shares you log. The Titans’ offense isn’t trustworthy.
TE: Eric Ebron - $5,600
Ebron has already turned in a career season and now gets the Colts’ tight end rotation all to himself with Jack Doyle sent to injured reserve. We’ll see if the Jaguars’ defense targets Ebron as an “X Factor” and try to remove him from the game. They’ve struggled to keep tight ends out of the end zone this season, having allowed more touchdowns to the position than all but three other teams. They surrendered 69 yards and two touchdowns to Ebron in Week 10 and this one shapes up like another promising day for him. But if current ownership projections hold and he ends up on nearly 30% of rosters, it’s wise to limit your exposure and chase other options. The Colts can score in a variety of ways and they may not be forced into much volume with the Jaguars throwing out Cody Kessler as the starter while also missing their star running back. Fading Ebron could hurt because he’s likely to score at least once, but Week 13 offers other great options at this position including Cameron Brate, who has one of the best matchups on the board and is significantly cheaper.
Core players need no explanation: they are the meat and potatoes of lineups. Developing a list and building around them is DFS Strategy 101.
QB: Jared Goff - $8,400
Since Week 8, the Rams have faced a fueled-up set of opponents that have forced them into a pass-heavy game plan. Goff ranks first in passing yards and third in passing attempts over that stretch, while tossing 12 touchdowns to just one interception. Those numbers, combined with his one rushing score, push him just .3 FanDuel points shy of tying Mahomes as the highest scoring passer. Goff’s completion rate of only 65% over that four-game sample certainly ushers in concerns, but that metric hasn’t stopped him from logging point totals of 26.5, 30.3, 21, and 35.1.
More concerning is his opponent. The Lions’ offense may not offer the same level of competition Goff and Co. have faced lately. Detroit has managed the 12th fewest points and 10th fewest yards of all teams, while scoring an average of 16.2 points per game since Week 8. The good news is that their defense has still provided solid numbers to quarterbacks. Russell Wilson dropped 23.4 points on them in Week 8, they crushed Kirk Cousins in Week 9 (7.8 points), but then handed Mitchell Trubisky 36 in Week 10, Newton 25.4 in Week 11, and Chase Daniel 18.9 on Thanksgiving. All told, only four teams have permitted more passing touchdowns, only two have logged fewer interceptions, and only four have allowed a higher completion rate to quarterbacks. If we’re to believe that the Lions run defense has improved (more on that next), then Goff should benefit and at least make good on his salary. Should the Lions actually take advantage of the Rams’ vulnerable defense, then we might be treated to a shootout—a scenario that could swing tournaments with Goff leading the way.
RB: Todd Gurley - $9,800
With the DFS world likely filtering their running back shares to more affordable options in promising matchups, we might get a slight discount in terms of exposure percentage with Gurley. Both Christian McCaffrey and Kareem Hunt are nearly $1,000 cheaper, and both have excellent projections given their respective matchups, leaving Gurley as the potential odd man out. Looking at his matchup, the Lions acquired Damion “Snacks” Harrison—a highly touted run-stuffer who made his debut with the team in Week 8. Here are their game splits versus running backs before and after his acquisition:
|Sample||Games||Rush Yrd||YPC||Rush TD||Rec Yrd||Rec TD||Tot Yrd||Tot TD||Yrd/Gm||FF Pts/Gm|
Note the significant change in yards per game and yards per carry, but also note the nearly identical touchdown numbers. Since Week 8, they’ve allowed the 23rd most FanDuel points per game after allowing the sixth-most in all games before that. And to honor context, the second half of the season includes games against the likes of McCaffrey, a healthy and effective Chris Carson, the Vikings backs (if you want to count them), and two games against Tarik Cohen. Their competition in the first half the season was worse despite including Ezekiel Elliott.
Needless to say, the Lions’ run defense has improved. But they’re still allowing touchdowns and a reliable chunk of both receiving yards and FanDuel points per game. Not that we ever need to get too granular with Gurley’s matchups. He’s the second-highest-scoring player in all of fantasy football. The question is whether we can count on his ceiling in a matchup that’s tougher than season-long stats suggest, and in a game where the Rams could blow up the Lions via the pass and pull their stud back long before the final whistle blows. That’s a valid concern considering the Lions haven’t put up a fight offensively since Week 7. But it’s what should keep the crowds away (even though he’s projected to be one of the highest owned on the slate), and anytime you can roster the best player at his position with discounted ownership, GPP strategy encourages it.
RB: Saquon Barkley - $8,600
Similar to Gurley, the crowd might forget about Barkley since his salary doesn’t provide much relief compared to Hunt and McCaffrey, and his matchup ushers in a lot of doubt. The Bears have been solid all season against running backs, having allowed only 15.2 FanDuel points per game (the fewest of all teams), the third-fewest total yards, and only nine total touchdowns. But context, once again, sheds valuable light. The Bears have faced the Packers, Seahawks, Cardinals, Buccaneers, Dolphins, Patriots, Jets, Bills, Vikings, and the Lions (twice). Feel free to spot a solid rushing attack among those teams if you can. That’s not to say the Bears aren’t one of the best defenses in the league. There’s no questioning that. But they’ve also benefited from an easy schedule that hasn’t featured an elite running back until now.
Since Week 8, Barkley ranks third among running backs in FanDuel points per game (minimum five games), first in market share of carries, second in red zone opportunities, first in market share of red zone opportunities, sixth in targets, and eighth in total yards. He has logged five total touchdowns and 294 total yards over his last two games. Most recently, the Bears allowed LeGarrette Blount to spot 22.8 FanDuel points and couple of weeks before that, Kerryon Johnson managed 21.9. This defense isn’t invincible, and Barkley has proven to be nearly matchup-proof every single week. If Mitchell Trubisky plays, we should expect this game to blow past its over/under of 45 points with Chicago on the positive end, forcing the Giants into a pass-heavy game flow. With a pass rush in his face all afternoon, it wouldn’t be surprising to see Eli Manning pepper Barkley with double-digit targets, which establishes his high-floor and high-ceiling. Take advantage of the crowd’s fear and make Barkley one of your core building pieces.
RB: Phillip Lindsay - $7,000
Last week, Lindsay parlayed 14 carries into 110 yards and one score against a good defense that previously allowed zero running backs to cross the century mark. He now ranks second in yards per carry on the season (5.5), and since Week 8 he ranks 13th in FanDuel points per game and 12th in red zone opportunities among running backs. This week, the Broncos travel to Cincinnati where they’ll meet the league’s worst run defense. The Bengals have permitted the second most FanDuel points per game on the season, and since Week 6, they’ve allowed 13 touchdowns and over 180 yards per game. That stretch includes a who’s who of backs including Alvin Kamara, Mark Ingram II, Hunt, and James Conner. Lindsay profiles similarly to most of those guys, and has the breakaway speed to take advantage of this generous matchup:
Correction: Phillip Lindsay's max speed of 22.36 MPH has been corrected to 21.91. Lindsay hit a top speed of 21.91 before T. Edmunds' push accelerated him to 22.36. Lindsay has the 5th-fastest speed by a ball carrier. Matt Breida maintains the fastest speed this season at 22.09.— Next Gen Stats (@NextGenStats) November 28, 2018
What he doesn’t have is exclusive rights to the backfield. Royce Freeman siphoned 14 touches and nearly 25% of snaps since his return two weeks ago. He also snagged a goal-line touchdown in Week 11, and certainly has the look of a guy who could take control of this backfield on any given Sunday. But until that happens, we should keep our faith in Lindsay and lock in his affordable salary.
WR: Adam Thielen - $8,100
Thielen’s red-hot start to the season has predictably regressed along with the Vikings’ unstable offense. Since Week 8, his market share of targets ranks 15th among wide receivers while Stefon Diggs’s share ranks third. Thielen ranks 12th in Fanduel points per game over that sample and 21st in receiving yards. His salary has plummeted accordingly—now the lowest since Week 2, and it seems the crowd has grown even colder in their willingness to roster him. What’s astounding about that is he’s coming off his fourth-highest scoring game of the season after lighting up Green Bay last week on the back of nine targets and eight catches for 125 yards and a touchdown. He has now failed to surpass at least 100 yards in all but two games and has scored in all but three games.
Up next is a promising road matchup against a Patriots’ secondary that’s been solid against most wide receivers… so long as you don’t apply any context. They’ve faced a bevy of mediocre quarterbacks, including Josh McCown, Marcus Mariota, Derick Anderson, Brock Osweiler/Ryan Tannehill, and Blake Bortles, getting destroyed by slot receivers in the process. Only the Bucs have allowed more yards and fantasy points, and only two teams have allowed more touchdowns to the slot. Those numbers include all positions—not just receivers—so we can’t simply lean on them as if they’re the gateway to monster games. But those numbers were the reason Jermaine Kearse got the nod in this column last week (six catches, 66 yards, one touchdown), and Thielen has the skill and the quarterback to swing tournaments in this matchup. He projects to line up against Jonathan Jones, who has allowed the fifth most yards among cornerbacks in slot coverage. Add in a pass-happy, high-paced game script in New England, and you have every right to make Thielen one of your core players.
WR: Mike Evans - $7,900
In their Week 9 tilt, James Bradberry got the better of Evans with shadow coverage by holding him to one catch for 16 yards on seven targets. That was with Ryan Fitzpatrick under center. Things should turn out differently this week. Jameis Winston has regained control of the offense and looked solid last week against the 49ers. He also looked solid coming off the bench in Week 11 when he posted 199 yards and two scored with one interception on 16 attempts. If he stays hot this week, Evans figures to return a solid box score.
The Panthers present a vulnerable defense that most recently allowed Tyler Lockett and David Moore to combine for 210 yards and two touchdowns. Kenny Golladay turned in 113 yards and scored two weeks ago. And in Week 10, Antonio Brown and JuJu Smith-Schuster combined for 186 yards and two touchdowns. Evans has managed back-to-back 100-yard performances and now has six such performances on the season. But he’s still failing to score regularly. Even his touchdown in Week 11 was a fluky fumble recovery in the end zone. Excluding that one, he’s managed only one end zone visit since Week 3. So, despite a near lock to put up 100+ yards in what figures to be a high-scoring matchup, his upside remains capped due lack of touchdowns. But he’ll have plenty of chances to make good on his salary this week and registers as a solid tournament option.
WR: D.J. Moore - $6,400
Sure to be a crowd favorite, Moore looks like the top option at wide receiver for the Panthers. He has 15 catches for 248 yards and a touchdown over his last two games. Even if Devin Funchess comes back this week, Moore should still earn plenty of looks against the Buccaneers’ shaky secondary. They’ve allowed the highest catch rate of all teams to wide receivers, and the fourth-most fantasy points per game. Yards and points should come in chunks for the Panthers’ offense, which at least protects his floor while also offering a ceiling worth chasing. His salary makes it possible to roster the likes of Thielen and DeAndre Hopkins, without sacrificing your roster’s floor at other positions.
TE: Kyle Rudolph - $5,600
If you believe that the Patriots will attempt to scheme Thielen out of this game, or if you’re looking for a Vikings power-stack, then Rudolph is your man. He saw seven targets last week and parlayed them into seven catches for 63 yards—his second-highest total of the season. Among tight ends, only Zach Ertz has run more routes and only nine have drawn more targets. As mentioned under Thielen’s blurb, the Patriots have been crushed in the slot. Nowhere do those numbers expose themselves better than with tight ends, where the Patriots rank fifth in FanDuel points allowed per game and fourth in touchdowns allowed. Most recently, Chris Herndon and Jordan Leggett combined for 81 yards, Jonnu Smith clocked in with 45 yards and a score, and Jimmy Graham managed 55 yards and a score. This game has all the makings of a shootout and with the Vikings still unable to establish the run while Diggs gets locked into tough shadow coverage from Stephon Gilmore, Rudolph registers as solid pivot option and viable stacking-mate for Cousins.
Indianapolis Colts - $4,200
Reasonably priced, the Colts rank fifth in takeaways and have registered six sacks in their last two games. The Jaguars’ offense has turned the ball over more times than all but two other teams, and will march out an unproven quarterback this week after benching Blake Bortles. Likely to be forced into volume, we can expect Cody Kessler to lob a few interceptions and absorb a few sacks along the way.
Kansas City Chiefs - $4,300
The Raiders’ offense is easily one of the worst in the league. They own the fifth lowest success rate (drives that result in points) and have scored the third-fewest points accordingly. They also own the eighth highest sack rate and the 14th most turnovers. Meanwhile, the Chiefs’ defense has been ripped to shreds plenty, but mostly by elite offenses. They allowed a total of 38 points while playing the likes of the Cardinals, Bengals, and Jaguars, and rank 10th in adjusted sack rate on the season. The Raiders’ offense brings a similar profile and should be forced into mistakes resulting in defensive scores.
Similar to sleepers, contrarian players are those the crowd has completely mispriced and undervalued. In some cases, it’s a player coming off an injury or facing a difficult matchup but still carries a heavy price tag. In other cases, it could be a player that has struggled recently and therefore deemed untrustworthy. In all cases, guard your exposure to players listed in this section but get them in at least a few lineups.
QB: Kirk Cousins
The media chatter might have you believe that the Vikings’ downward trajectory is permanent. Maybe that’s true for real football, but for fantasy football, his stock has bankable upside, especially considering the matchup on Sunday. Headed to New England, Cousins projects to fall into a bundle of passing attempts that might move his current sixth-rank attempts per game since Week 8 into top-three territory. He’s done well with that volume, too. His 73.5% completion rate ranks sixth and his 281 yards per game rank seventh. What he hasn’t done well is convert volume into touchdowns and fantasy points, ranking 12th and 13th respectively.
He shredded Green Bay last week and logged his fifth 300-yard performance of the season. For reference, only four quarterbacks have more 300-yard games this year than Cousins. He started the season hot with the second most passing yards and 11 touchdowns from Week 1 to Week 5. Since then, he’s dropped to QB19 in FanDuel points per game. But he finished last week as the second-highest scoring quarterback and should offer a reprise performance this week against the Patriots, who have allowed the seventh-most points per game to quarterbacks despite ranking 20th passing yards allowed. The yards can be explained by their game logs:
|Patrick Mahomes II II||6||23||36||352||4||2||2||9||0||28.98||9000|
Even McCown and Mariota turned in usable fantasy scores, while Bortles, Luck, Mahomes, and Trubisky all abused this secondary. The Vikings have a solid core of Diggs, Thielen, Cook, and Rudolph, which props up Cousins floor and makes his ceiling worth chasing. He’s one of the best contrarian options on the board and worth considering as a core player.
LeSean McCoy - $5,700
McCoy has logged 77 touches since Week 8—the 13th most among running backs—and ranks 13th in market share of red zone opportunities. Of course, the Bills’ offense is terrible, so opportunities weigh less for him than they do other high-volume backs. But fantasy points are born at the crossroads of opportunity and matchups. He had the touches last week (18) against Jacksonville and managed only 53 yards. This week, he gets a Dolphins’ defense that’s allowed more yards per game to running backs than all but the Chiefs and Cardinals. A few weeks ago, Aaron Jones gashed the Dolphins’ line with 145 yards and two scores on only 15 carries, while adding another 27 yards on three catches. Lamar Miller managed 133 yards and a score on 18 carries. And Kerryon Johnson smoked them with 179 combined yards on 21 touches. McCoy could finally run into some efficiency in Miami and easily pay off his affordable salary.
RB: Royce Freeman - $5,000
As much as this column loves Lindsay, there’s also a case to be made for Freeman as a contrarian play. Per Pro Football Focus, he ranks sixth among running backs in yards after contact per attempt (minimum 45 attempts) and has only one fewer missed tackle than Lindsay despite 51 one fewer carries. He’s no lock to suddenly see an uptick in snap counts or touches this week, but if the Broncos jump to a big lead at any point in this game, Freeman could benefit, and the matchup is glorious.
WR: Bruce Ellington - $4,900
Without Marvin Jones Jr in the lineup, Ellington has drawn target totals of nine and seven. He hasn’t done much with them—just 80 total yards—but his lack in efficiency can be blamed equally on the defenses he has faced and the fact that he joined the Lions just a few weeks ago. Jones is offically done for the season, which cements Ellington’s place as one the WR2 in this offense. He’ll get a much better opportunity to make good on his volume this week with extra time to prepare for a hot Rams team sure to force Matthew Stafford and Co. into a heavy passing attack. The Rams’ secondary has allowed the most touchdowns, 13th most yards, and seventh most FanDuel points per game to wide receivers. He doesn’t get the easiest of matchups in the slot against Nickell Robey-Coleman, who has struggled his last two games, but should benefit when lining up outside (the Lions have lined him up in the slot on 41% of his snaps this year). For only $4,900, a touchdown would put Ellington nearly halfway towards hitting tournament value. He should continue to draw a heavy share of targets and if keeps his catch rate intact (75%), he’ll return a decent stat line this week, all while allowing us to decorate our rosters with high-priced studs.
TE: Matt LaCosse - $4,700
Before sustaining an unfortunate season-ending injury last week, Jeff Heuerman was the seventh-highest targeted tight end since Week 8. His absence frees up approximately six targets per game. Some of those will naturally filter to Matt LaCosse, who looked good in relief last week and sets up as a solid option against a Bengals’ defense that’s allowed more FanDuel points to tight ends than any other team. He poses an obvious risk since we can’t guarantee that he automatically steps into the starter role at tight end, but for nearly site-minimum in a cupcake matchup, he’s worth the risk. Courtland Sutton also should see an added bump in targets and makes for a decent play at $5,400.
Def: Seattle Seahawks - $4,600
If you can afford them, the Seahawks look like a worthwhile investment. They’ll host a 49ers’ offense that managed only nine points against a much worse defense last week, and have turned the ball over 22 times this season. The Seahawks don’t boast the ball-hawking defense they once did, but they’ve been tough on mediocre quarterbacks and should be able to convert home-field advantage into meaningful fantasy stats as 10-point favorites. Even after failing to sack Cam Newton, they still have 13 sacks over their last five games and should have no trouble getting after Mullens, who the Bucs sacked four times last week.