Championship Week DFS Breakdown

20 Jan 2018 - 8:40pm | Roto Coach | Updated: 20 Jan 2018 - 9:10pm | Likes: 0 Like 
Championship Week DFS Breakdown

Jacksonville @ New England

NE: -7.5 O/U: 45.5

Quarterback: In case you’ve been living under a rock, Tom Brady’s throwing hand has been a major cause of concern for this game. So much so that some sportsbooks even took the game down off their boards on Friday morning after the line moved from -9 to -7 in favor of the Pats after news of Brady’s injury leaked. Of course Bill Belichick and the rest of the Patriots, including Brady himself, have conducted interviews with the sort of feigned ignorance and cheeky non-answer answers that the hooded one I’m sure instills when New England does its “How To Talk To the Media” seminar during training camp. But let’s be honest, that session might as well be entitled “What To Say If Captured,” and probably involves dark basements, bare light bulbs, former CIA interrogators, and Nickelback on repeat. Or at least based on Friday’s press briefings it seems likely. In all seriousness, Brady is listed as questionable heading into the weekend and there are reports that he cut his hand on a helmet at some point during Wednesday’s practice and required four stitches-hence the gloves. Still, is there anyone who really believes he won’t be out there on Sunday? That’s not happening unless he literally can’t grip a football. And the only way he’s not the top quarterback on this slate is if he’s ruled out. While facing Jacksonville’s elite cover corners with a bum hand is far from an ideal situation, let’s not discount the fact that teams have had success throwing the football against the Jags in recent weeks. Russell Wilson, Jimmy Garoppolo, and last week Ben Roethlisberger all posted good to great fantasy days against this defense in the last month. And last week may have been especially telling, as the Jags nearly squandered a three touchdown lead, giving up touchdown plays on third or fourth and long, FOUR times. That’s hardly the stuff of a first rate defense. But it is helpful for New England with respect to what we might see in this game. First, I don’t expect the Patriots and Brady to shy away from throwing the football, but they are certain to pick their spots. The Jags field one of the fastest, if not the fastest defense in the league so don’t expect the Patriots to try to stretch the field from side to side. But this is also an extremely young and aggressive defense, which means they will be prone to over-pursuit and do take some unnecessary risks. That’s not a great combination against a Belichick and Brady led team, and you can be sure we’re going to see some wrinkles from New England. I don’t expect the type of 300 yard-3 touchdown performance we saw against Tennessee last week, but I think the odds are very high that Brady is the top scoring quarterback on the slate, and he’s undoubtedly the safest. On the other side is Blake Bortles, and the question on everyone’s mind is whether we see the same Bortles we saw in Pittsburgh last week, or the Bortles who ran for more yards than he threw for against Buffalo in the Wild Card Round. To be fair, I think it’s somewhere in the middle, but I also think this has a real chance to go south in a hurry. In 61 NFL starts Blake Bortles has thrown 64 interceptions, with his longest stretch in a season without an interception standing at three games. He did that exactly once, and it was earlier this season. So far he’s yet to throw an interception through the first two rounds of the playoffs, and it just seems unlikely that will continue. Undoubtedly the Patriots will look to stack the box and slow down Leonard Fournette, as Belichick’s focus on taking away the one player he thinks makes and offense work is well documented. It means we should see a lot of Bortles being forced to make plays. And while that worked out last week at Pittsburgh, the more information that comes out about the Steelers preparation, the more it appears that team was looking ahead and simply didn’t take Jacksonville very seriously. That doesn’t happen in New England. At least not in January. We know Blake Bortles can pile up garbage time stats with the best of them so that’s always a possibility, but I don’t think we see anything close to last week’s performance.

Running Back: After last week’s monster performance against the Steelers, Leonard Fournette may be the highest owned running back this week, as the Patriots field a defense that was ranked 30th at defending the run in the regular season. Given the big games we’ve seen running backs like Kenyan Drake and Kareem Hunt hang on this team, there’s certainly a path to Fournette being the top back. That said, everything points to the Patriots seeking first and foremost to neutralize the Jags stud rookie running back, putting the game in Blake Bortles hands. That doesn’t mean that Fournette won’t rip off a decent run or two, but this team did hold Derrick Henry to 28 yards rushing on 12 carries last week so they are capable of bottling up opposing rushing attacks at times. In fact, since allowing more than 130 yards and a score to Le’Veon Bell in Week 15, the Pats have allowed just 136 total rushing yards on 50 carries to running backs over their past three games, including last week. Having some Fournette makes sense, but he’s priced way up and doesn’t offer a ton of safety for the money. The other player you can take a flyer on here is T.J. Yeldon. If you’re in the camp that believes the Jags will be playing from large deficits for most of the game, then Yeldon makes some sense as the pass catching back in hurry-up sets. On the other side of the field it looks like we may see Rex Burkhead back in the mix this week, as both he and Mike Gillislee drew “questionable” tags ahead of the weekend. While he was on fire before the knee injury, I still expect the Patriots to use him in a limited fashion this week, as we know he’s definitely not at a hundred percent. And his price hasn’t come down that much since the injury so paying up for a guy that might not get double digit touches makes him mostly a large field tournament play since we know the two touchdown upside is there. If Burkhead is active on Sunday it makes James White a much more difficult player to roster. If you remember back to last week, I advocated fading Dion Lewis in favor of White because Tennessee’s run defense was their strongest component on that side of the ball. This week I’m flipping the script and I’m a big fan of Lewis. Even with an active Burkhead, he still sets up as a 12-15 carry back against a team that gave up 100 yards or more rushing to the position in one third of its regular season games, and despite making their way through the first two rounds of the playoffs, are allowing more than 4.0 yards per carry to running backs so far in the postseason. This is a Jags team that surrenders big plays between the tackles, and Lewis is the best positioned Patriot to take advantage of that weakness.  


Wide Receiver: There are four Jaguars receivers of note, and all are worth consideration due to their low price tags and the possibility that Jacksonville will have to try to throw its way back into this game at some point. Of late, Marqise Lee and Dede Westbrook look to be the most reliable options for Jacksonville, with Lee seeing 7 targets over the past two games and Westbrook totaling 11. It hasn’t translated to a lot of production for either player, but it’s hard to envision Jacksonville holding the Patriots offense down to the point where significant wideout involvement by the Jags isn’t necessary. After Lee and Westbrook, Keelan Cole has been taking the top off of defenses as a situational deep threat, and Allen Hurns has reclaimed some run out of the slot. Cole makes sense as a boom-bust option because he can pay off his price tag on a single play, while Hurns is actually in a good matchup facing a defense that has struggled against slot receivers all season. None of the Jacksonville receivers are safe, but all are worth considering in tournaments at their various price points. Brandin Cooks will probably be one of the highest owned wideouts this week, but it’s simply not a place I’m going to go. First, he’s going to see either Jalen Ramsey or A.J. Bouye coverage on nearly every route he runs. And don’t let Antonio Brown’s success last week fool you, because as good as Cooks is, that guy is in a class by himself. I talked last week about the Patriots generally opting for the path of least resistance when attacking a defense. To be sure, targeting Bouye and Ramsey isn’t that. This also means that Chris Hogan isn’t in the best spot either, as the Jags entire coverage unit has been the best in the business all season, including against slot receivers. Speaking of which, Danny Amendola, who torched the TItans last week for 112 yards on 11 catches, will find much tougher sledding against Jacksonville. He’s going to gain some popularity coming off that big game and has also seen a price increase. Amendola is a guy you buy on the dips, not the rises. Jacksonville’s reputation as a shutdown coverage unit is well earned, and with that in mind there’s not a ton of safety for any of the Pats wideouts. Taking cost, matchup and role in the offense into consideration, I’d rank them Hogan, Cooks, and Amendola for Sunday, but temper your expectations.  


Tight End: Of all the Patriots pass catchers, Rob Gronkowski is the one I’m highest on this week. And obviously I’m not alone. While Jacksonville hasn’t been terrible at defending the position this season, they did not have to face a lot of the league’s top talent at the position this season, avoiding guys like Travis Kelce, Greg Olsen, Zach Ertz, not to mention Gronk himself. Delanie Walker  and Jack Doyle did manage solid numbers against this defense with Walker posting a 13-134-1 line over his two games and Doyle totaling 13-84. Much like last week, there’s no reason to overthink the position. Gronk is easily the best option at tight end and has the potential to be the highest scoring player at any position on the week. Jacksonville tight end Ben Koyack caught the Jags only touchdown against Buffalo in the Wild Card Round, but he’s not even coming close to playing 50% of the snaps each week. At the same time veteran Marcedes Lewis has played 80% or more of the snaps in each of Jacksonville’s two postseason games and has seen a few targets. If you’re trying to completely punt the position, he probably has the highest probability of giving you something back for your small investment.


Defense: There’s a case to be made for Jacksonville this week, as this team has the ability and talent to make plays and flip turnovers into defensive scores. Meaning even if they don’t win the game, they could still offer enough in the counting stats department to be a solid play. After all, they allowed 42 points last week and still almost posted double digit fantasy points. The Patriots also have some decent tournament upside here, as they face Blake Bortles in a game where they are heavily favored. That portends some significant opportunity for turnovers, but don’t count on New England posting a bunch of sacks again against the elusive quarterback. Neither of these defenses is as safe a play as those in the later game, but there’s enough upside in each that you can take a shot.


Minnesota @ Philadelphia

PHI: +3  O/U: 39

Quarterback: Well this is certainly the quarterback battle we all envisioned for the NFC Championship back in August. Case Keenum vs Nick Foles for the right to go to the Super Bowl. Well, to be fair Foles didn’t really lead his team here, as he’s spent less than four full games under center for the NFC’s top seed. And since Carson Wentz went down he’s been exactly what we’ve come to expect with Foles: some stretches of solid play, frequently interrupted by mental lapses and accuracy issues. With that in mind it’s likely that Doug Pederson looks to execute a similar game plan to last week’s upset of the Falcons. Much like the Divisional Round, expect Philadelphia to lean heavily on the running game and its defense, once again counting on Foles to act as a game manager rather than a play maker. In a matchup with Minnesota that features a Vegas projected total under 40 points, the Eagles would happily settle into a grind it out affair. After his initial start against the Giants, a game in which he threw for four scores, Foles and the Philadelphia offense have generated just one touchdown and seven field goals over their past three games. And going against a defense that ranked 4th in the NFL in DVOA against the pass during the regular season and allowed the third fewest fantasy points to quarterbacks, he’s hands down the least attractive quarterback option on the slate. Case Keenum enters the week riding high after his long touchdown pass to Stefon Diggs in the final seconds of last week’s game gave the Vikings a stunning comeback win. Keenum finished the game with over 300 yards passing, 1 interception, and 1 touchdown-the game winner. Much of his passing last week came in the final quarter, as Minnesota held a 17-0 lead at the half and it wasn’t until Brees and the Saints passing attack started moving the football that Keenum had to really push it downfield. Still, he found enough success against one of the better secondaries in the league in crucial situations, something he’s done all season. Minnesota is unlikely to enjoy the same early success on the ground that they did against New Orleans, as the Eagles field one of the better run defenses in the league. At the same time, their secondary has gotten healthy over the second half of the season and allowed just two good fantasy performances over that stretch-one to Russell Wilson in a shootout, and the other to Eli Manning in another score-fest which was Foles’ first start after the injury to Wentz. If the Vikings are going to prevail, it’s likely that Keenum will need to have some success on Sunday against the Philadelphia secondary. That makes him a stronger play than Foles.

Running Back: With the expected popularity of the running backs in the AFC title game, this NFC matchup is a good place to unearth some value at the position or to plug into a FLEX spot. Let’s start on the Minnesota side of the football, where Latavius Murray and Jerick McKinnon have settled into a timeshare that trends towards being a fifty-fifty snap count, but is very much dictated by game script. Last week Murray played 44% of the snaps, but led significantly in touches: 21-11. Much of that was due to his role as the primary ball carrier in a game where the Vikings held a 17 point lead at the half and didn’t see the Saints put any points on the board until the final ninety seconds of the third quarter. McKinnon then played extensively on passing downs as the game flipped back and forth through the fourth quarter. Unlike last week, where Minnesota squared off against a vulnerable Saints run defense, Murray is going to have trouble finding running room against a formidable Eagles front. And given that he’s priced higher than McKinnon, even on PPR sites like DraftKings, I’m inclined to think McKinnon represents the better value here, against the only team that managed to hold opposing running backs under 1000 total yards rushing during the regular season. Still, they did allow 91 receptions for 653 yards and 5 touchdowns. That said, the Vikings and Eagles ranked 1st and 2nd respectively in fantasy points allowed to the running back position on the season so don’t expect big outputs from either side. Which brings us to the Eagles, who continue to up Jay Ajayi’s workload. Ajayi saw a season high (for his Philadelphia tenure) 20 touches for 98 total yards last week, but will face a much better Vikings run defense than the one he saw last week from Atlanta. He’s priced appropriately across the industry given the difficult matchup, but if you’re in the camp that believes the Eagles will be able to move the football (I’m not) he certainly represents a solid value play due to his high usage in this offense. LeGarrette Blount also found his way into the mix last week, totaling 9 carries for 19 yards and a touchdown, which is pretty much in line with what was expected. He should once again see short yardage work, probably sees 6-8 carries, and could bang in a goalline score. The Eagles running back I probably wouldn’t roll the dice on here is Corey Clement. While Clement did see passing downs work en route to 5 catches for 31 yards last week, the Vikings were tops in the league this season at defending running backs in the passing game. And even though Alvin Kamara got loose down the sideline for a 14 yard touchdown pass to put the Saints ahead late, he and backfield mate Mark Ingram only logged 5 total receptions for 65 yards between them on the day. Hardly impressive, considering the two combined for an average of nearly 9 receptions for just under 80 yards per game on the season. Clement isn’t a place I think you need to go, and Minnesota’s track record against backs in the passing game cuts into some of Ajayi’s value as well.


Wide Receiver: On the Minnesota side of the ball, Jarius Wright seemingly came out of nowhere to post 3 catches for a season high 56 yards, including a couple key plays. His involvement in the offense (a season high 6 targets) had a lot to do with the Saints strength in coverage-boundary corners Marshon Lattimore and Ken Crawley, who did a solid job of matching up with Adam Thielen and Stefon Diggs for most of the game. In fact, up until Diggs’ 61 yard game winning touchdown catch and run, New Orleans had limited Diggs and Thielen to 5-76-0 and 6-74-0 respectively. That doesn’t necessarily qualify as “shutdown,” but it’s a pretty sound effort against two of the league’s better least for the first 59:50. While Wright may make a popular value play this week, those aren’t points I have an interest in chasing. On the season the Eagles have actually been outstanding in coverage against slot receivers, while struggling to contain receivers outside. While Diggs has played outside all season, Thielen ran plenty of routes out of the slot early on in the year, but has been moved around a bit more over the course of the second half and actually ran more than 70% of his routes outside last week against the Saints. Eagles corners Jalen Mills and Ronald Darby are decent in coverage, but far from elite. And certainly a step down from Lattimore and Crawley, as the Eagles secondary relies on its pass rush to mask what is largely an average coverage unit. Also important to note, is that Thielen and Diggs aren’t deep pass reliant wideouts, which should help marginalize that strong pass rush. On the season Thielen averaged 6.0 air yards per target, and Diggs just a touch more at 6.2 air yards per target. While I think I slightly prefer Diggs at his price point, both are very strong plays this week. On the other side I expect Alshon Jeffery to draw Xavier Rhodes in shadow coverage. While Rhodes did spend a lot of time on Michael Thomas last week, who still found success with a 7-85-2 stat line, it nonetheless took 13 targets to get there. Jeffery simply isn’t as good a receiver as Thomas at this stage of his career, and he’s also going to be catching passes from Nick Foles rather than a future NFL Hall of Fame quarterback. At his current price point on most sites, that will be enough to keep me off him. If I’m looking to an Eagles wide receiver this week, Nelson Agholor running mostly out of the slot probably has the safest floor, while Torrey Smith does have some tournament upside against Trae Waynes outside. Both are fairly priced across the industry, and if the Eagles find themselves in an early hole they could easily exceed value. I don’t see either as pieces to build around, but don’t mind them as one of the last guys into your lineup.


Tight End: Obviously Gronk is going to command most of the tight end ownership on this slate, but Zach Ertz is coming off a fantastic regular season and is well recognized enough as a top five fantasy tight end that he’s sure to make some fantasy lineups. That said, he’s a guy I’m taking a stand on and will ultimately have little to no exposure to on Sunday. On the year the Vikings ranked second in DVOA at defending tight ends in the passing game, and allowed the fewest fantasy points to the position of any team in the league. Only New Orleans and Carolina allowed fewer receiving yards to the position, and only the Steelers gave up fewer touchdowns (2) than the Vikings (3). Normally we think of backup quarterbacks as a boon to tight end production, as they tend to favor the safety of short, safe passes to often bigger and more sure-handed targets. I just don’t think that’s the case here, as Minnesota has just been far too good at defending the position and I can’t see Philadelphia looking to attack at a point of strength. It’s not that I think Ertz will be shut down entirely, but I can’t roster him as the second most expensive tight end on the slate. Which means if I’m pivoting off of Gronk and not completely punting the position outright, Kyle Rudolph is a solid stand to make. Philadelphia has been good, but not great against the position on the season, with a regular season stat line of 73 catches for 745 yards and 5 touchdowns allowed to the position on the year. It still puts them in the top half of the league in fantasy points allowed to the position, but does represent the highest fantasy points per game average allowed of any of the four teams playing in the divisional round. And that’s easily enough to bump Rudolph way ahead of Ertz for me on a point per dollar basis.


Defense: Given the very low Vegas projected total on this game, these two defenses are probably the safest plays on the board this week. Heading into the weekend Minnesota is projected to score just 21 points and the Eagles are expected to post just 18. That makes both of these squads viable plays, as a back and forth low scoring affair like the one we saw in Philly last week, is certainly well within the realm of possibility. If you’ve read through my breakdown of the entire game you can probably guess that I give the nod to the Vikings here as my top rated defense. After a big win like last week’s there’s always the possibility of a letdown. But the way this team battled and scored points when they needed to against an underrated New Orleans secondary leads me to believe they can do the same this week against the Eagles. At the same time, Philadelphia has struggled mightily to put points on the board with Foles under center the past few weeks. Five field goals was enough to squeak by the Falcons, but this week an even better defense is in town and I’m just not seeing where the points come from.

Good luck this week!

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