TipAndPick's: Tips and Picks, Conference Championships

Cash game and GPP selections for DraftKings

For the uninitiated, playing daily games on DraftKings can be an enjoyable experience, but equally sobering is the fact that season-long knowledge does not always translate to success in the daily space. Footballguys will bring you a series of value- and strategic-based selections from a number of seasoned daily veterans throughout the NFL season. Herein is another edition of “Tipandpick’s Tips and Picks,” where we will examine the salaries of players at each position on DraftKings and make value-based recommendations for both your cash games and tournaments.

Below you will find a list of recommended players for both formats. GPP players generally have high-upside, but are too risky for cash games; cash game players are consistent with high fantasy floors. In some instances, the value for a player is so strong, he may fall into both categories…let’s have a look.

TIPS...

In order to help you build winning rosters, let's walk through some of the observations that I have made while doing my research for DraftKings this week. As you build out your lineups on DraftKings, try to consider the following commentary, which revolves around game strategy and how we will want to take advantage of what the masses are doing when they construct their own lineups.

GAME SELECTION: GPPs. [Adapted from 2018 Tips and PIcks, Conference Championship] If you are a regular reader of this column or follow me on Twitter, you are well aware that I am a big advocate of playing DFS on the largest slate possible. A lesser number of games increases overlap because there are not enough player choices for lesser-skilled players to make mistakes. As a result, cash games are almost unwinnable over the long-term and I will never play (or advocate you playing) cash games on two-game slates. That leaves GPPs and alternative game formats (i.e., "Showdown Captain," and "Tiers"). Typically, I would advise you not to play DFS on a two-game slate for the same reasons I already explained for avoiding cash games; however, the NFL playoffs are a special time of year and I make an exception for Divisional Championship weekend because it is the last day of (NFL) DFS until next September. My advice for this weekend is to find single-entry games on DraftKings by filtering on the "tournaments" tab on the left side of the homepage and subsequently entering "single" into the search bar (just above the 'tournaments' tab); from there, you should be able to choose from approximately seven different single-entry tournaments, ranging from a $1 buy-in up to $100 (if you are a high-dollar player, there are larger single-entry tournaments on the site, but they do not appear when one filters via the "tournaments" tab--alter your search accordingly). By focusing on single-entry tournaments, you are avoiding competing against other DFS players who cast a wider net by playing anywhere from 20 to 150 entries in the same tournament; on a two-game slate, it becomes prohibitively difficult to compete against those mass multi-entry players, which is what makes playing single-entry tournaments so attractive. From there, build your roster with the knowledge that you will need to hit on every player and that there will likely be a low-owned (< 15% in this case) player who scores and will be needed to win. Read below ("Picks" Section) to see who I will be targeting in these types of games.

GAME SELECTION: SHOWDOWN CONTESTS. DraftKings introduced the so-called 'Showdown: Captain Mode' contest format about eight months ago for NBA and it has become a popular contest, particularly for primetime games. The appeal of this format is that even the most casual of player can quickly put together a roster and have stake in the game (just ask my better half). If you are not already familiar with this style of contest, here is a quick summary: All players are chosen from a single game (including kickers and defenses) and one of those players is your "Captain," who costs 1.5-times as much as he would if you rostered him in a non-Captain slot; the reward for paying 1.5-times as much for this player is that he returns 1.5-times his true fantasy output (assuming he were otherwise in a non-Captain slot). Just like a standard contest, you start with a $50K salary cap and draft the best roster possible. If you want to play cash games this weekend, my recommendation is that you do it in this kind of contest because I think that there is still a slight edge to be had for those who build their rosters intelligently. For cash games, you will want to do everything possible to get both quarterbacks into your lineup and slot in players around them that you think have solid scoring floors; in the Rams-Saints game, rolling with a kicker is not a terrible idea given the high game total and dome environment. Because so many casual players enter these contests, building your rosters this way might yield the best edge possible on a short two-game slate. For playing this style of contest in tournament formats, you need to script the game in your head and build your roster accordingly, while focusing on trying to identify that one cheap sleeper who has the ability to surprise with a touchdown--my favorites for each team this weekend are as follows: Chiefs--Chris Conley, $2.0K...Patriots--Rex Burkhead, $3.0K...Saints--Josh Hill, $800...Rams--Gerald Everett, $2.4K. There are two large $10 buy-in contests this week; for the early game, the first-place payout is $50K and the late game has a whopping $200K first-place prize.

...AND PICKS

Let's take a deeper look into some of the players who I will be targeting for my cash game and tournament rosters this weekend. A short summary follows each respective table to fill in the gaps that led to the respective recommendations; that text represents only an overview of the methodology and rationale that goes into each recommendation.

QUARTERBACKS

For Conference Championship weekend last season, DFS players were asked to choose between Case Keenum, Nick Foles, Blake Bortles, and Tom Brady. As you may remember, the result was massive ownership of Tom Brady, but it was Nick Foles who delivered with 350+ passing yards and 3 touchdowns. This year, the list of quarterbacks from which to choose is much more appealing with each quarterback having finished the season in the top-12 of fantasy scoring (Patrick Mahomes II: 1st, Jared Goff: 6th, Drew Brees: 8th, Tom Brady: 12th). Because each quarterback is elite (or borderline-elite) and the implied Vegas totals for each team are all within three points of one another, the distribution of ownership is expected to be somewhat evenly distributed, which should make for an interesting Sunday despite the limited player pool. In the early game, Drew Brees will face off against a name-brand secondary that features Aqib Talib and Marcus Peters, but has been snake-bitten by top-tier quarterbacks for much of the season, including a 346-yard/4-touchdown game from Brees back in Week #9. For his part, Brees has been relatively quiet of late, having not surpassed 20 DK points since the beginning of December, but his lack of fantasy output can be attributed to two things: 1) Three of his previous five games were on the road, where Brees has historically underperformed, and 2) His two home games both resulted in 300+ passing yards, but minimal touchdowns (1 and 2, respectively) because Alvin Kamara and Mark Ingram II collected 3 touchdowns in those efforts. On the opposite side of the field, Jared Goff will continue to seek the success he enjoyed with Cooper Kupp earlier this season; in games that Kupp started (and finished), Goff averaged 26.9 DK points per game, but that number fell nearly 40% without Kupp to 17.2 DK points per game the rest of the season. This trend is underscored by the Rams' recent usage of Goff, who has thrown for more than one touchdown only once in the Rams' previous six games. It seems that Sean McVay is content to hammer defenses with a combination of Todd Gurley and C.J. Anderson, while limiting Goff as much as possible.

The nightcap will feature a dichotomy of ages at the quarterback position. Tom Brady was a freshman at Michigan when Patrick Mahomes II was brought into this world back in 1995. On Sunday, they will try to get their respective teams into the Super Bowl in early February. Oddsmakers in Las Vegas project this game to be a back-and-forth contest, which puts both quarterbacks in play for DFS purposes. Brady is coming off the least productive 16-game season of his career, but he must be considered against a Chiefs defense that has allowed the fifth-most fantasy points per game to Brady's position this season. For Kansas City, Patrick Mahomes II will look to crown his QB1 season with a home victory against the perennially favored Patriots. Mahomes will be the most popular quarterback on the short slate, which makes him a possible fade candidate, given the wealth of talent at the position. While he is averaging 4x this week's salary over the course of the season, he has hit GPP value only once over his previous five games, which can partially be attributed to the success of Damien Williams, who has scored in every game over that span.

VERDICT: Because we have a wealth of riches at the position, I am allowing my wide receiver distribution (see below) to drive my quarterback exposure. Thus, Drew Brees becomes the play. He will not deal with the cold conditions that will be a factor at Arrowhead ('feels like' conditions in the low teens), is offered at a slight discount to Mahomes, and has a multitude of pass-catching receivers with the ability to create yardage after the catch. Thereafter, I will have a relatively even distribution of each of the other three quarterbacks in the event that one of them catches fire in a bottle and finishes with a big day. If Patrick Mahomes II delivers a 4x (or more) fantasy performance at ~ 30% expected ownership, I will have had a poor weekend; going underweight on him is purely a game strategy decision that could yield major dividends if Damien Williams continues to score touchdowns.

RUNNING BACKS

The Rams destroyed an otherwise efficient Dallas front seven last week, posting 273 rushing yards and 3 scores en route to a 30-22 victory over the Cowboys. Most surprising about that win was the fact that C.J. Anderson out-touched Todd Gurley, 23-18. Gurley looked tremendous when he was on the field, but if he is going to continue to see only ~ 60% of the team's snaps, it is difficult to fully recommend him against the Saints, who have not allowed a 100-yard rusher across the entire 2018 season. Likewise, as great as C.J. Anderson has looked wearing blue and yellow, it would be folly to expect him to continue to score at the rate in which he has scored in his first three games as a Ram. Because of the limited slate, Gurley is going to be incredibly highly owned (~ 50%) and your decision to roster him should be based on how you see the game playing out--if you think the Rams win (or keep it close), you should be underweight on Gurley because Anderson will continue to usurp carries from him; if you think that the Saints jump out to an early lead, Gurley would be used more often as a receiver and Anderson would find himself watching from the sidelines. For the Saints, both Mark Ingram II and Alvin Kamara are viable options. Ingram has accepted the secondary role behind Kamara, but is still seeing sufficient action to merit consideration for DFS play, particularly because his lesser snap count is baked into his price (a 30% reduction from Kamara). The Rams stifled Ezekiel Elliott last week with a steady dose of '8-in-the-box' defense, which would spell disaster against the Saints' more diversified offense; as such, look for Kamara and Ingram to exploit this 28th-ranked DVOA rush defense whenever possible. Ingram is the strong GPP play, as he will likely come in at a much lower ownership than the crowd-favorite, Kamara.

Coming off a three-touchdown game at home in Foxborough, Sony Michel should be one of the more popular running back options on this two-game slate, but he will continue to go underowned because he rarely catches passes and DraftKings' full-PPR scoring makes him less valuable than a player like Alvin Kamara. Nonetheless, Michel continues to enjoy nearly 20 touches per game and is firmly in play at only $5.4K against the Chiefs' last-ranked DVOA rush defense that allowed the 3rd-most fantasy points per game to running backs this season. Coming off a 15-catch game against the Colts, we would be remiss to not mention James White, who quietly scored 12 touchdowns this season. And lest we forget Rex Burkhead, who merits consideration because of his redzone prowess (scored in last two games) and $3.4K salary. Opposite this trio of backs is Damien Williams, who appears to have locked down the bellcow role after Kareem Hunt was released and Spencer Ware was injured shortly thereafter. Williams has scored in five consecutive games and is coming off a game that saw him collect 30 touches against the Colts.

VERDICT: There are no clear-cut options at the position this week because the Vegas odds do not explicitly call out a blowout game. If you believe one team to be superior to another, grab the running back(s) from that team. My top option is probably Mark Ingram II, who is priced too cheaply against the Rams, a team that has allowed 10 different running backs to hit 4x Ingram's salary this season. Alvin Kamara is another option and, yes, it would not be absurd to have both Saints' running backs in the same lineup, as they have combined for multiple touchdowns in over half of their games together this season. Beyond the Saints' running backs, get some shares of Damien Williams at a fair price at home in a game where the weather has the potential to turn the game into a ground-and-pound type affair. With that latter possibility in mind, Sony Michel is also an option against a defense that has done nothing to stop his position for the majority of the 2018 season.

WIDE RECEIVERS

Both games this weekend are projected to feature well beyond 50-points, which keeps just about any skill player on the DFS radar, particularly with only 4 teams from which to roster players. In the early game, Michael Thomas is once again a standout candidate at his position because of his massive ~ 30% marketshare in the Saints' receiving corps. With Keith Kirkwood (calf) already announced as inactive, we should expect Thomas to get more opportunity out of the slot, where Aqib Talib rarely follows; Thomas' matchup against Nickell Robey-Coleman is almost unfair in that Robey-Coleman gives up a massive seven-inches to the 6'3" Thomas, which should be a big factor inside the redzone. That would leave Ted Ginn Jr and Tre'Quan Smith to run the majority of their routes from the perimeter against Talib and Marcus Peters, the latter of whom finished the season in the bottom half of coverage cornerbacks in ProFootballFocus' rankings and allowed the sixth-most touchdowns in the league while in coverage. Thus, all Saints receivers are viable tournament options on Sunday and Michael Thomas is as close to a must-play option as any player on the short slate. For Los Angeles, we should probably expect Sean McVay to sacrifice Josh Reynolds to the Saints' best cornerback, Marshon Lattimore, so as to enable the Rams' better receivers to find space against the likes of Eli Apple and P.J. Williams. Robert Woods, who runs ~ 70% of his snaps from the slot, will see the most of Williams, who finished the regular season as the 75th- (of 81 total) ranked cornerback on PFF's grading system. On the outside, Brandin Cooks will get another shot at 'revenge' against his former team when he lines up across from Apple, who allowed Cooks to post a 6/144/1 stat line when they faced each other earlier this season.

At Arrowhead, we should expect to see Bill Belichick take advantage of personnel mismatches, much like we saw last week when the Chargers had no answer for Julian Edelman (9/151/0) and James White (15/97/0). Of the possible matchups, it would seem that UDFA rookie Charvarius Ward would be the best possible situation for either Chris Hogan or Phillip Dorsett, who primarily line up on the outside. Ward inherited the role vacated by Orlando Scandrick when the veteran was benched late in the season; since then, Ward has been targeted often by opposing quarterbacks with success (76% completion percentage), but he has not yet yielded a score in coverage...which could certainly change on Sunday against Brady and Belichick. Out of the slot, Julian Edelman will face off against Kendall Fuller, who has allowed only two touchdowns all season; Edelman is always in play as Brady's favorite receiver, but the matchup is not nearly as attractive as last week in Foxborough. For Kansas City, Tyreek Hill is the wide receiver to consider. Hill's breakaway speed combined with the Pats' man scheme could lead to big plays for the $7.7K receiver. Aside from Hill, Chris Conley is a punt GPP flyer and Sammy Watkins is less attractive because of his lack of production against man coverage.

VERDICT: Start with Michael Thomas and build around him. Thereafter, Tyreek Hill brings as much upside to your rosters as any wide receiver on the slate and can do it with one play. Zigging where others are zagging will be the difference between winning and losing in GPP formats and some possible 'zig' options include Ted Ginn Jr, Phillip Dorsett, and/or Chris Conley.

TIGHT ENDS

There is not much to like beyond Travis Kelce at the tight end position on this short slate. And, for that reason, Kelce is going to find himself on over half of DFS rosters. Simple game strategy dictates that you should go underweight on him at those levels of ownership; how far you decide to fade him is up to you, but the right decision is to have less exposure than the masses. If you decide to fade Kelce, where do you go? In the early game, there is not a lot to like because neither team uses their tight end as a primary receiving option. The Rams split snaps between Tyler Higbee and Gerald Everett fairly evenly, which makes both of them hard sells even at their discounted salaries. The Saints will likely be without Ben Watson (appendicitis), which means that we should see more Josh Hill and possibly a bit more Dan Arnold; of those two, Hill is the more attractive punt option because he will likely see the most snaps, but Arnold has surprised us before and merits attention for deeper GPP formats. The only other option on the slate is Rob Gronkowski, who finished this season as the TE9 and is looking like a shell of his former self. That said, the Chiefs allowed the second-most fantasy points per game to tight ends this season and Gronk was a pass interference call away from scoring in last week's contest against the Colts. He is fairly priced at $4.1K and would almost assuredly reach value if he were to score a touchdown.

VERDICT: If you are playing cash games, Travis Kelce is the answer here, but Rob Gronkowski is the option that makes the most sense for tournament formats. The Chiefs struggle to defend the position and we should not discount the fact that Gronk will leave it all on the field to make yet another Super Bowl appearance. For long-shot flyers, Josh Hill and Tyler Higbee are acceptable options, but carry goose-egg floors.

TEAM DEFENSES

With all four teams projected to score 26+ points, there is nothing to like at the team defense position this weekend. The Chiefs probably have the worst defense of the four, but playing at home in front of a fired-up crowd hungry for their first Super Bowl in nearly 50 years should help keep them in contention. None of these defenses average double-digit fantasy points and all four offenses rank in the top-11 in turnovers allowed, which collectively means that there is no real edge to be had this week at the team defense position.

VERDICT: The Rams have the most playmakers on their defense, but also have (arguably) the toughest matchup against a team that posted 45 against them earliest this season. If you must pick just one defense, take the Saints, who boast a stout defensive front that could limit the Rams' running game and force Jared Goff to become more involved, something that Sean McVay has been avoiding since Cooper Kupp went down in Week #11. Otherwise, just build your lineups and slot in whichever defense you can afford at the end of your building process.