The Divisional Round of the 2017 NFL Playoffs give us a four-game slate with two over-unders higher than 50 in domes, Le’Veon Bell, and Tom Brady, so:
The Wild Card Round was one where if you made the right plays, you probably had a rough weekend in tournaments (GPPs). Fortunately, for cash games, everyone spent down at RB2 with little rewards and not enough spent down at TE.
The Divisional Round is going to diversify the player pool much more, despite still only four games. There are just so many plays at every position, making cash games and GPPs just that much more fun, especially with never more than one game on at a time to follow.
I took the week off from consuming football through the TV, to be honest. Well, relatively speaking.
My birthday was last week Thursday, so I was picking up throughout the house during the Texans-Raiders game, really only watching the second quarter closely. Then, people came over and we watched the first half of the Lions-Seahawks game before getting social and playing games. Coincidentally, those were the only portions of said games worth watching.
As for Sunday, the Steelers-Dolphins was background noise, as I did NBA research, then, I went to a wedding reception. The only game I watched in full was the Packers-Giants game because we recorded it.
It was nice to not watch useless, bad football. But there should not be any of that this weekend.
The second half of the Patriots-Texans will be bad, no doubt, but it will not be useless, if you are rostering LeGarrette Blount and the Patriots D. The Chiefs-Steelers will not be high-scoring, but Le’Veon Bell is always fantasy-relevant and the game should stay close.
As for the other two games, the NFC is total toss-up between those four teams, so the games should reflect that.
The legend for the abbreviations in my spreadsheet are posted here. Remember that the numbers are for the defense in the same row, e.g. Green Bay is 28th in DVOA against WR1s, so Dez Bryant draws the matchup of the 28th-best DVOA. Weather in parentheses is listed as: high/low, conditions, chance of precipitation, wind
Falcons vs. Seahawks (Dome)
Without Earl Thomas, we should ignore some seasonal numbers from the Seahawks defense, especially against the Falcons offense in Atlanta. According to FootballOutsiders.com, the Falcons were #2 (behind only the Patriots) in weighted offense, #1 in passing, and #7 in rushing. They are favored by five points in a rising line and have the second-highest Vegas-implied total on the slate (28.75). We do not have to question whether or not the Falcons will put up points, but only how.
SEA gave up the third-most receiving yards to WR1s on this slate, were 30th in the league in DVOA vs. WR2s, and we should expect the weakness up the middle to continue without Thomas. This firmly puts Julio Jones and Taylor Gabriel in play.
Where SEA was noticeably strong this year was on deep balls. They were sixth in DVOA against deep passes versus 22nd against short ones. This is a boost for Mohamed Sanu in the slot and Tevin Coleman out of the backfield, but—adding in the factor that ATL’s run blocking ranked seventh against linebackers and third in the open field—this puts Devonta Freeman in an elite spot, who can also be interpreted as the WR3.
Playing a QB against SEA feels weird, but Ryan is the third-highest priced QB on all three sites heading this high-scoring offense. With Tom Brady’s volume uncertain due to gamescript, Aaron Rodgers’ in question due to the slow pace of the Packers and Cowboys, and the possibility that Ryan is owned at under 15%, playing as few as three lineups warrants Ryan exposure.
The two teams played earlier this season in Seattle where Ryan threw for 335 yards and three TDs, Julio had seven catches for 139 and a TD, and Sanu had five catches for 47 yards and a TD. The Freeman-Coleman combo was ineffective, but they combined for only seven targets. Ryan is a creature of habit. He likes his guys and force-feeds them in tough spots, more often than not.
It is unclear how much exposure to Freeman we should have and whether or not he is a strong cash play outside FantasyDraft where get two flex spots; but do not allow Richard Sherman to scare you off of playing Julio in cash. Sanu is a nice punt flex on the full-PPR sites.
Coleman is probably the best contrarian play in this game on DK and FantasyDraft. He scored 11 TDs. Freeman got a carry or saw a target on 292 of his 604 snaps played (48.3%); Coleman 148 on 353 snaps (41.9%). So, if Coleman plays 40% of snaps in the game which should see the most plays run, Coleman is a safe volume for the price with huge play upside.
Russell Wilson, on the other side, is the best “playing from behind” QB play on the board, where we can look good for two or three TD by having to throw a lot. The risk is high, though.
ATL was 19th in DVOA vs. the pass and 29th vs the run, projecting success for Thomas Rawls, which will just beget more running. Darrell Bevell plays as scared as anyone, so it will take him a long time to deviate from what is working until it is too late.
All of that said, we should stay on the Paul Richardson Train, which should be the hindrance from getting too crazy about Gabriel or Geronimo Allison (about whom we will talk later). Wilson clearly trusts him to catch the balls in his zip code. He has 16 targets in the last three games and is becoming Wilson’s primary red zone option with two TDs in that span. With no Tyler Lockett, it is far easier to go with Richardson for about the minimum price tag than pay the relatively premium price tag for Jimmy Graham.
Graham, literally, has a floor of zero fantasy points. so spending up to an expensive TE, who is the third option in a low-volume offense makes little sense. If we are spending that money on a SEA passing option on FanDuel, the winner is clearly Doug Baldwin, who had: 125 targets to Graham’s 95; 94 receptions to Graham’s 64; and seven TDs to Graham’s six.
Graham may catch six balls for 90 yards and a TD. So, what? Baldwin has three-TD upside against a Falcons team ranking 29th vs. WR3s, who are mostly slot WRs far worse than Baldwin. On DK/FantasyDraft, Baldwin’s $8.1k price is outrageously around 60% higher than Graham and Richardson is only slightly cheaper. If we are going to play Graham, it is on those sites where he is, basically, the same price as Coleman.
ATL can be beat on the ground. The play is Rawls over Wilson because Seattle should stay within a possession on the scoreboard and run with success. Baldwin has the most upside of any WR on the slate, though Richardson has the best chances among all players under $5k on FD/DK and $9k on FantasyDraft to score a TD. That said, the value at WR is abundant.
On FD, both kickers are firmly in play. Steven Hauschka is slightly stronger, simply because we can expect more 3rd and longs from SEA in ATL territory than vice versa. Those are the hardest to convert and result in more FGs.
The ATL DST is a fine contrarian play in one of ten lineups, only because the SEA offensive line has been terrible. Pressure begets sack and INTs, so four sacks and two INTs from Wilson in a blowout is within the range of possibilities on the road as big underdogs, for them.
The nugget that keeps me on the SEA offense and keeping 70-point upside for this total is that Vegas is not very good at assessing SEA on the road. They are 8-2-1 against the spread in their last ten as road dogs; 15-6-1 against the spread versus plus-.500 teams on the road; and the over is 5-2 in SEA’s last seven playoff games. The over-under higher than 50 could be Vegas’ regression, but I project it to be yet another under-assessment of the gameflow of a Seahawks game.
This whole game is stackable in many directions, which is why we cannot completely rule out anyone. Except Levine Toilolo and Luke Willson. Don’t play them.
Cowboys vs. Packers (Dome)
This game should see a lot of points, despite both teams’ penchant for ball control. The Packers ranked fourth in points scored this season to the Cowboys’ fifth, despite being 13th and 20th, respectively, in total plays run. This is because DAL was fourth in yards per play (6.0) and third in drives ending with a score (43.9%); GB tied for ninth (5.7) and fourth (43.7%), respectively.
Looking at GB’s rankings against WRs, we see a sea of green, after a neutral DVOA vs. the run. DAL ran the ball more than anyone in the NFL this year with 2016 rushing leader Ezekiel Elliot, who was fifth in the NFL in yards per carry (5.0). We should approach this week not thinking highly of the GB defense in any way.
DAL has the third-highest Vegas-implied total (28.0), but is within the margin of error for being second. Considering the Patriots’ cakewalk this week, we want to stack DAL’s elite spot.
Where Elliot ranks among the rest is an interesting conversation I have heard and dilemma of which I have read. The dilemma feels contrived, as Elliott is an autoplay. Even on DK/FantasyDraft, the volume and 100-yard bonus make up for not getting receptions. And we ought not expect The Alfred Morris Show to be stealing TDs. If anything, Darren McFadden deserves consideration as a flex punt at $3k/6k on DK/FantasyDraft, where Dak Prescott is an unquestionable lock as the third-cheapest QB on the slate across the industry.
When trying to make sense of Prescott’s price, despite his elite spot, one has to remember that performance and matchup are not the only factors in pricing. Like Vegas odds are created to balance volume on all sides, DFS pricing is an effort to balance ownership; and Prescott is usually low-owned, projecting a low ownership this week, making the sites go the extra mile to entice us into rostering him. And people will still ignore it because Prescott will never be as sexy as Brady, Rodgers, Ryan, and an awful play to be named later, which will baffle unknown philanthropists.
Prescott’s home-road splits have no significant discrepancy about them. This is not to diminish Dak at home, but to better illustrate that he is just really, really, good. It is rare to just be good everywhere, especially for a rookie. The numbers look like Alex Smith, but the athleticism and arm strength say otherwise in games where he is called upon to do more.
In Week 6 in Green Bay, Dak threw for 247 yards and three TDs; Week 10 in Pittsburgh, 319 and two; Week 11 versus a great Ravens D, 301 and three; Week 16, hosting the Lions, 212 and three. The only struggles against good teams or good defenses were against the Giants, but GB’s defense has neither a pass rush nor corners like the Giants.
Deciding how to stack Dak is dependent on lineup construction. Stacking with Elliott usurps all of the Cowboy TDs and stacking with Dez exploits the best matchup in the game. But don’t rule out stacking with Jason Witten. Witten had 16 targets inside the 20-yard line (to compare Graham had 18 and Travis Kelce had 16) to Bryant’s 12 this season. Witten-Dez are effectively WR1-WR1a in that territory.
This is not a standard “playing from behind” spot for Rodgers because trading points is far more likely. Every week, there is a solid argument to look at someone else over Rodgers, but the results always seem to prove that “but he’s Aaron F’N Rodgers” was the correct counterargument . It is a solid one with which I will not argue.
Without Jordy Nelson (ribs), the ball can go anywhere. Going all-in on a Davante Adams, Randall Cobb, Geronimo Allison, or Jared Cook can be done, but are any of them are the best players in their respective price tiers and position on whom to take a stand?
The DVOA tells us that Cook has the best matchup with Allison closely behind (assuming Jordy is out and he lines up opposite Adams). We should treat Cobb as a WR3 because so many of his targets are out of the slot. That said, why is DAL so bad against TEs, but not WR3s?
If Cobb did not have such a monstrous game last week, he may be an autoplay. But the ownership puts him in question, as he will be the one on whom there is the best case to take a stand or fade.
Adams has not seen fewer than six targets since Week 6—a span in which he is averaging 8.8 targets per game, almost always as the #2 WR on the field. By comparison, Dez averaged 7.9 targets per game, excluding Week 16.
The Packers passing volume is just huge. There are plenty of targets to go around, so where we miss out on the lower options like Cook and Allison, we can play the ownership game with Adams or Cobb, assuming they will both get theirs. Or play both with Dak-Elliott-Witten. That said, naked-stacking Rodgers with Elliott-Dez or Elliott-Witten gives us more wiggle room to still have our ATL-SEA exposure.
Ty Montgomery, Cole Beasley, and Terrance Williams are the guys I am likely crossing off of list come Friday evening. The Montgomery and Beasley factors are mainly in what volume they will take away from others and Montgomery being an interesting contrarian flex play for his elusiveness. Williams should get his five or six targets, but is simply a dart throw for a TD. It may require more than ten lineups to consider him.
Both DSTs are firmly out of play. I am not explaining this further.
Patriots vs Texans (37/19, sunny, 0%, 7 mph)
Fading all of the Texans is likely a risk-free proposition. Winning with no Patriots exposure is difficult to imagine.
If there is a QB to play naked, it is Brady over Rodgers because, regardless of “playing from ahead” narratives, Brady can get the team up 28-0 with three TD passes in the first half, using short passes as the de facto chain-moving run game. Why he is not a cash play or a core GPP play is that HOU is a funnel run defense and Bill Belichick’s M.O. is to attack where opponents are weakest in high volume.
The gap between the HOU pass and run D does not only bode well for LeGarrette Blount closing out the game with ease, but Dion Lewis getting it started. Lewis averaged 15 carries with six targets to Blount’s 16.7 and zero targets in the final three games of the season. Lest, we forget that Lewis had 50 targets in seven games last season before tearing his ACL.
We should project this gameflow to start as The Dion Lewis Show. HOU was 28th in DVOA against RBs in the pass game and relatively neutral versus WR1s.
The question then becomes who we deem New England’s WR1. We can call it Michael Floyd, but it is unclear if that is because he scored a singular TD in Week 17, playing 73.1% of snaps or because he is even cheaper than Richardson and we really, really want life to be so easy.
If Malcolm Mitchell suits up, he is the FanDuel play with Julian Edelman’s 12.6 targets per game over his last seven as the DK/FantasyDraft play, but Floyd can win a GPP this weekend.
Blount is in the mix as maybe the second-best RB play for cash games, considering price, obviously. He is guaranteed 20 carries in a blowout and will get all of the goalline carries. We have seen this movie before in the playoffs where Blount scores multiple TDs to inflate a blowout.
Blount is safe for 75 yards and one TD. Perfectly acceptable floor for under $8k on FD, under $6k on DK, and under $11k on FantasyDraft, despite zero catches and a more limited shot at 100 yards than Freeman or Rawls.
There is a contrarain case for HOU exposure: they will all go low-owned and will get prevent-defense allowing tons of garbage yardage. But sending up to DeAndre Hopkins for this is not the way to go.
Hopkins has a ceiling that is low, relatively to the slightly more expensive WRs, let alone the fact that we can spend down to Edelman, Cobb, or Tyreek Hill. He has to outscore too many people and too many cheap options need to fail for playing him to be correct.
Will Fuller is the cheap exposure to HOU garbage time we can justify because he is the only one we can really see scoring 12 points on one play, which we will take at punt pricing in one of, maybe, eight GPP lineups.
But I started this game’s preview with the message that fading Texans will not be regretted to lock myself into sanity. I cannot veer away from that lede. Maybe, I need a post-it note to refrain from playing Fuller because Brock Osweiler is a nightmare.
Play the Pats D without a problem in cash. Lock it in and treat Osweiler as Blake Bortles for now.
Chiefs vs. Steelers (36/34, rain, ~90%, 7 mph)
Putting price into the equation, I feel similarly about the Steelers as I do about the Texans. Not to the same degree, but enough to where it is very difficult to craft an argument for actually putting Ben Roethlisberger, Le’Veon Bell, or Antonio Brown into my lineup.
The case against Ben is obvious: he is on the road against the best home pass defense in the league. His TD:INT ratio went down from 20:5 at in six home games all the way down to 9:8 in eight road games. Last week, I wrote that Ben is Peak Tom Brady at home? Well, on the road, he is Blake Bortles. He will, also, be playing with a foot injury, so the Chiefs DST is best play from this game and the best GPP play at the position with a 25-point ceiling of accumulating sacks and INTs.
This leads to a great case against Brown, who should be peppered with targets enough to be fine, but Ben’s road woes in the loudest stadium in the—oh, by the way—freezing rain kills Brown’s ceiling. Brown is $500 more than Julio on FD, $1200 more on DK, and $2000 more on FantasyDraft. We need #1 on the slate ceiling to justify his #1 price.
Maybe, all of this is the case for Bell. He is the PIT de facto WR2 and the best bet for market share on the slate. KC is a true funnel run defense and the 1.5-point spread is close enough to give Bell a full game.
But Bell is priced as if PIT is at home with a high over-under. This is the game which Vegas projects as the lowest scoring game on the slate with PIT grinding out points in the low 20s.
We can also feel safe that field goals won’t end drives in the rain. PIT can be very aggressive on 4th down in great weather, when the game is close; in the rain, expect them to frequently go for it. The advantage Bell-Brown have over the average higher-priced player is that if PIT scores three TDs, we know each of them get at least one. The problem is that their prices require two TDs. Bell has the best chance of that, but I will take the savings on Elliott in a far better situation before Bell.
Alex Smith would normally deserve conversation, but the rain takes him out of the equation. That said, if reports tell us that the game fades the rain, he is the cheapest option at the position and has the upside for two passing TDs, and one rushing, to get us over 20 fantasy points.
We should feel so much better about Travis Kelce, though, for 8-15 targets and the best shot at the position for 100 yards, especially on DK/FantasyDraft. I, personally, still lean Witten, from a point-per-dollar standpoint.
The Steelers being dead-last in DVOA vs. WR1s is the key stat of this game. Determining whether that is better for Thy-Freak Hill or Jeremy Maclin can be up for debate. Hill is the sexier option, but has only seen 27 targets in his last seven games. KC should get the stops to force punts to add to his touches, but we are paying a Cobb-minus-Rodgers price for a big play or two.
Spencer Ware is not a bad play. PIT is 19th in DVOA vs. RBs in the pass game, so there is opportunity with his guaranteed touches. There is just so much cheaper upside elsewhere, like Montgomery or Coleman.