Wild Card Round Sunday
1:05 PM ET Game
Miami @ Pittsburgh
Vegas Projected Score: Steelers 28, Dolphins 18
RED TEXT = Edited based on new info.
Sunday’s kickoff game has the highest total (46.0) on the Week 18 slate and is lopsided in Pittsburgh’s direction with the Steelers favored by ten points at home. As we’re all aware, Ben Roethlisberger has wicked home-game splits, having completed 533-of-783 passes (68.1%) for 6,781 yards (8.66 YPA) with a 59:16 TD-to-INT ratio and 16-4 record at Heinz Field over the last three seasons -- good for averages of 2.95 touchdowns and 339.05 yards per game. This year’s leaders in passing scores and yards per game were Aaron Rodgers (2.50) and Drew Brees (325.5). Four of the final six quarterbacks to face Dolphins DC Vance Joseph’s defense posted top-three fantasy results, the two exceptions being Bryce Petty and Carson Palmer in a Miami monsoon. In playoff DFS, Roethlisberger is this week’s top quarterback play and I’m not sure it’s close. … Same goes for Le’Veon Bell among Week 18 running backs. The Dolphins’ run defense closed the season ranked No. 22 in Football Outsiders’ DVOA while being dusted for a combined 137-724-3 (5.28 YPC) rushing line by enemy backs over its final six games. As Jay Ajayi went completely off (25-204-2) in these clubs’ Week 6 meeting and Roethlisberger turned in his typical road-game dud while playing through a knee injury that required surgery the following Monday, Le’Veon disappointed – for him – with 109 yards on a season-low 16 touches. The Dolphins dominated time of possession (36:30 to 23:30) and ran 68 offensive plays to the Steelers’ 53 in a stunning 30-15 rout. As Pittsburgh finished top 15 in both possession time and play volume and stiffened considerably on defense down the stretch, a repeat script seems unlikely in this rematch back in Pittsburgh. The Fins have also allowed the NFL’s sixth most receptions (89) to running backs. Just as Ajayi did to the Steelers back in October, I’d look for Le’Veon to return the favor and smash this matchup out of the park.
Ben’s targets since the Steelers’ Week 8 bye: Antonio Brown 79; Le’Veon 57; Eli Rogers 40; Ladarius Green 34; Jesse James 25; Cobi Hamilton 16; Sammie Coates 13. … Dolphins top CB Byron Maxwell gave Brown more problems than any corner all year in Week 6, winning their head-to-head matchups more often than not as Brown finished with a season-low 39 yards on eight targets. Maxwell suffered a high ankle sprain in Week 15. In Weeks 16-17, Sammy Watkins (7-154-1) and Julian Edelman (8-151-1) both proceeded to set season highs in yardage against Miami. Brown has topped 100 yards and/or scored a touchdown in six straight home games. He’s the best Wild Card wide receiver play, ahead of Odell Beckham and Jordy Nelson. … Slot man Rogers caught four balls in these teams’ Week 6 game, while Patriots slot man Edelman shredded Miami’s interior defense last week. PFF has charged slot CB Bobby McCain with the Dolphins cornerback corps’ highest passer rating allowed (112.7). Rogers has plus splits in the absence of Green (concussions), averaging 7.0 targets and 82.7 yards in Green's last three missed games compared to 4.2 targets and 35.2 yards in Green's six appearances. … Green suffered an apparent late-week setback and is unlikely to play against Miami. James will take over as Pittsburgh's every-down tight end after logging 84% and 86% snap rates with 5 and 3 targets when Green missed Weeks 16-17. As the Dolphins have lost both of their starting safeties (Reshad Jones, Isa Abdul-Quddus) to injured reserve, they were hit for 6-79-1 by 49ers tight ends in Week 12, 12-129-2 by Ravens tight ends in Week 13, 8-85-2 by Charles Clay in Week 15, and 4-37-1 by Patriots tight ends last week. Although James has not been a high-volume part of Pittsburgh's passing game, he is squarely in touchdown-or-bust punt discussion as an every-down player in a high-scoring offense. I like James better than guys like Dion Sims, Will Tye, Ryan Griffin, and Clive Walford on the Wild Card slate.
Keyed by a rejuvenated pass rush and settled secondary, the Steelers skied to No. 12 in pass-defense DVOA by season’s end while holding each of their final seven quarterbacks faced below 265 yards and outside of the top-12 weekly fantasy scorers. From their Week 8 bye on, Steelers DC Keith Butler’s increasingly blitz-heavy defense piled up 30 sacks to finish ninth in the NFL (38) after managing 8 sacks combined in Weeks 1-7. Ageless OLB James Harrison earned PFF’s No. 13 pass-rush grade among 59 qualified 3-4 outside linebackers while late-season I.R./recall returnee OLB Bud Dupree led the league in sacks from the month of December on (4.5). Early-season slot corner liability Sean Davis took over at strong safety in Week 11 and the Steelers didn’t lose another game. Matt Moore has performed above game-manager expectations three starts in, guiding an offense that has averaged 27.3 points per game since Ryan Tannehill (knee) went down. Moore has hit long gains, albeit most of them via dynamic RAC plays. Moore did find Kenny Stills for an over-the-top 25-yard score in last week’s loss to New England where Stills got so wide open it looked like a coverage bust. As Miami is a ten-point dog in Week 18’s highest-totaled game, there is a story to be told where Moore stacks stats in catch-up mode or a sneaky shootout. More likely, the Dolphins will remain a run-first team that tries to control this game and holds Moore under 35 attempts for the fourth straight start. … Jay Ajayi was the star of these clubs’ Week 6 date, eviscerating Pittsburgh’s defense on zone runs to the edge and going BeastMode when sprung free while gaining three quarters of his 204 yards after initial contact against a Steelers defense that was missing ILB Ryan Shazier (knee). Pittsburgh was gashed last week by Browns backs for a combined 27-190-1 (7.04 YPC) rushing line, albeit without DE Stephon Tuitt (knee). Both Shazier and Tuitt will play on Sunday. Getting a true read on the Steelers’ run-defense stoutness has been difficult, but Ajayi’s workload has never been in doubt with 11 straight games of 18-plus touches. Beyond Le’Veon Bell, Ajayi’s usage is arguably the most secure of any Wild Card Round running back. … With such a limited game menu, passing-down specialist and sometimes red-zone vulture Damien Williams might be a mildly intriguing long-shot DFS punt had he not lost what amounted to last week’s game-ending fumble at the Patriots’ six-yard line. We’re really stretching here, but it’s a miscue that might lead to a playing-time bump for fleet-footed rookie Kenyan Drake, who also returns kickoffs for the Dolphins.
Moore’s targets this season: Jarvis Landry 23; Kenny Stills 20; DeVante Parker 17; Williams and Dion Sims 8; Ajayi and MarQueis Gray 4. … Landry’s target totals in Moore’s starts are 4 > 6 > 12 with his volume correlating directly to Moore’s game-script-impacted pass attempts totals. Landry has quietly put together 80-plus yards and/or a touchdown in four of his last five games and should be the main beneficiary if this game flows as the ten-point spread suggests. Landry fared well (7-91) in these clubs’ Week 6 meeting and offers one of the best PPR wide receiver floors on the Week 18 slate. He’s in top-six wideout consideration with only Antonio Brown, Odell Beckham, Jordy Nelson, Doug Baldwin, Davante Adams, and maybe DeAndre Hopkins offering a better case. … Stills’ targets with Moore are 3 > 8 > 7 with a touchdown in all three and four scores over his last five games. Stills is always a big-play threat, but he is catching about three balls per game while living on a wildly unsustainable touchdown rate facing a Steelers defense that allowed the NFL’s second fewest touchdowns to wide receivers (9) this year. … Parker’s targets are 3 > 7 > 7 with Moore. Strictly in terms of cornerback-receiver battles, Parker has the toughest in Miami’s pass-catcher corps as the likeliest to draw Steelers LCB Ross Cockrell, who broke out as one of the league’s top young corners this year and played a major role in holding Parker to 28 yards on five catches in Week 6. Because Miami’s pass volume could be elevated by negative script and Parker offers downfield playmaking ability, I’m still going to have DFS tournament exposure. Ultimately, neither Parker nor Stills sets up as a strong on-paper play against a Steelers pass defense yielding so few scores and big passing gains. Only Denver and Houston gave up fewer 20-plus-yard completions than the 2016 Steelers (40). … Sims’ targets with Moore are 4 > 3 > 1 on snap rates of 94% > 100% > 98%. We know Sims will be on the field, but his passing-game usage has been minimal beyond two Week 15 goal-line scores against the Jets. He’s a touchdown-or-bust punt with a goose-egg floor.
Score Prediction: Steelers 28, Dolphins 17
4:40 PM ET Game
NY Giants @ Packers
Vegas Projected Score: Packers 24.5, Giants 20
Aaron Rodgers enters the Wild Card Round as the NFL’s hottest quarterback north of Matt Ryan with an 18:0 TD-to-INT ratio over his last seven games and increased recent rushing production, a handy tool because opponents like to play the Packers’ receivers in man coverage, increasing scrambling lanes. The Giants yielded the NFL’s second fewest quarterback rushing yards (85) this season, however, while only 2-of-16 quarterbacks to face New York posted top-12 fantasy results, including stretch-run shutdowns of Dak Prescott (QB27), Matthew Stafford (QB20), and Kirk Cousins (QB21). When these teams met in Week 5 at Lambeau Field, the Giants held Rodgers to 5.8 yards on 45 attempts and picked him off twice – both by Janoris Jenkins -- the first on a Jordy Nelson drop-deflection over the middle and second on a fantastic diving play in front of Davante Adams. Rodgers has otherwise been lights out in home games, where he has a 22:4 TD-to-INT ratio and multiple touchdown passes in 7-of-8 games this season, most notably in theoretically tough draws with the Giants (2), Texans (2), Seahawks (3), and Vikings (4). Rodgers was the most matchup-proof quarterback in fantasy this year. In DFS tournaments, my guess is Ben Roethlisberger will attract higher ownership. Rodgers still offers a similar or even superior ceiling. … The Packers benched Ty Montgomery for most of last week’s first half following a failed screen pass after which Rodgers left the field shouting at Montgomery. FB Aaron Ripkowski wound up with his second highest snap rate (48%) of the season and a career-high 11 touches. Montgomery did return to start the second half and operated as Green Bay’s feature back the rest of the way, but this occurred a week after Montgomery once again struggled in pass protection. Still learning to play NFL running back, Montgomery’s usage has become volatile while trying to earn Rodgers’ trust. Due to his wide receiver background, it is surprising that Montgomery hasn’t made an impact in the passing game since October. The Packers’ rushing matchup is tough against a Giants run defense that ranks No. 3 in DVOA and has held enemy running backs to a combined 151-512-2 (3.39 YPC) rushing line over its last seven games.
Rodgers’ target distribution over the last two months: Jordy Nelson 79; Davante Adams 56; Jared Cook 40; Montgomery 28; Randall Cobb 27; Richard Rodgers 20; Geronimo Allison 17; Ripkowski 6. … Albeit at a time when Jordy wasn’t running as well as he is now, the Giants held him to 38 yards and a touchdown on 13 targets in Week 5 as Nelson left a ton of yards on the field with four arguable drops. Giants top CB Janoris Jenkins also repeatedly made spectacular pass breakups. Jordy scored his two-yard touchdown on off-script improvisation against rookie CB Eli Apple. The Giants have limited enemy No. 1 wideouts, notably checking DeSean Jackson (2-34-0), Dez Bryant (1-10-0), and Antonio Brown (6-54-1) over the season’s final five weeks. The matchup isn’t strong on paper, but a bet on Rodgers is generally a bet on Nelson, and both were incredibly strong bets in the second half of the season. In DFS tournaments, Rodgers-to-Jordy will likely have less ownership than Ben-to-Brown. Nelson has caught at least six passes in six straight games and scored a touchdown in 11-of-16 games this year. Even in a tough draw, Jordy is a top-three wideout on the Wild Card slate. … Adams went to work (5-85-1) in Week 5, doing much of his damage against UDFA CB Michael Hunter, who isn’t on the Giants’ 53-man roster anymore. Adams’ yardage results can be hit or miss, but he finished second in the NFL in touchdown catches (12) behind only Nelson (14) and will get better individual matchups if Jenkins chases Jordy. … Cook is one of Week 18’s top matchup-driven DFS plays facing a Giants defense that yielded 7-89-1 to Redskins tight ends last week and gave up the NFL’s sixth most catches (89) and fourth most yards (1,052) to the position this year. While still not a full-time player, Cook has become a consistent part of Green Bay’s passing game with snap rates of 66% > 59% > 53% and target totals of 8 > 5 > 8 in Weeks 15-17. Cook has a tendency to disappear in the red zone, but his elevated usage and matchup make Cook one of this week’s most intriguing box-score bets. … Allison replaced Cobb (ankle) as the Packers’ third receiver in last week’s win, logging six targets on 81% of the snaps. Allison hooked up with Rodgers for 39 yards on a bootleg pass that required post-snap communication, a 31-yard shot play on a designed downfield pick, and a diving touchdown where Rodgers looked to Allison in the end zone on an improvised play. It was a promising effort by an undrafted rookie. Allison might disappear if Cobb returns, but he’ll get a ton of playing time again if Cobb doesn’t. Allison ran a brutal 4.67 forty at the Combine, but he improved to 4.56 at Illinois’ Pro Day and has vertical ability on sheer length at 6-foot-3, 197 with 33-inch arms.
Matchups will work strongly in Eli Manning’s Wild Card Round favor against a Packers defense that gave up 22 touchdown passes over its final ten games and three straight 340-yard games to Matt Barkley, Sam Bradford, and Matthew Stafford in Weeks 15-17. Manning’s recent performance won’t after he topped 270 yards in just one of the final ten weeks in an offense that failed to score 20 points in 10-of-16 games and four straight to end the year. The Packers sold out to stop Odell Beckham on Sunday Night Football in Week 5, putting at least two defenders in his vicinity on all of OBJ’s 12 targets and limiting him to 56 yards on five catches, saved by an eight-yard garbage-time score. As Manning’s fantasy results depend almost completely upon Beckham turning easy completions into big plays, Eli had an ugly 199-yard game to discourage his remaining apologists on national TV. Manning was horrific on the road this season, averaging 223.5 yards per game and 5.94 yards per attempt with multiple touchdown passes in 3-of-8 games. I think Ben Roethlisberger, Aaron Rodgers, and Russell Wilson are all significantly better NFL playoff DFS bets than Eli. Most of the field will, too, of course, making Manning worthy of low-owned tournament consideration based on OBJ’s playmaking ability in the best quarterback matchup on the Wild Card slate. … Paul Perkins’ Weeks 15-17 touch counts were 11 > 16 > 21 on snap rates of 39% > 38% > 51% compared to Rashad Jennings’ 18 > 13 > 19 on 39% > 46% > 39% playing-time clips. Perkins averaged 4.48 yards per carry to Jennings’ 3.00 over the final five weeks. The pendulum is swinging in Perkins’ direction ahead of a plus Week 18 draw against a Packers defense that allowed a combined 203-950-9 rushing line (4.68 YPC) to running backs over its last ten games. I don’t think Jennings is going away, but Perkins has become a better bet for touches and yards. Jennings remains the favorite for scoring-position work after piling up five red-zone carries to Perkins’ two in last week’s win.
Manning’s targets since the Giants’ Week 8 bye: Beckham 99; Sterling Shepard 57; Will Tye 45; Jennings and Victor Cruz 31; Jerell Adams 17: Perkins 16; Roger Lewis 14. … OBJ will probably face heavy coverage on every snap, but he is likelier than not to win battles against a depleted Packers secondary that gave up 12-202-2 (Adam Thielen), 8-110 (Deonte Thompson), 9-104 (Cameron Meredith), 6-89-1 (Alshon Jeffery), 6-77-1 (Golden Tate), 5-76 (Marvin Jones), and 4-57-1 (Anquan Boldin) to enemy wide receivers in its final three games on top of league highs in yards (3,017) and touchdowns (26) to the position this year. Despite his slow Week 5 against the Packers, this is a blowup spot for Beckham, who finished second in the NFL in targets (169), third in catches (101), and third in receiving yards (1,367). … Bogged down by a dysfunctional passing game, Giants slot man Shepard managed 14 yards on seven targets against Green Bay in Week 5. Not much of a big-play threat, Shepard was a short score-or-bust fantasy gamble for most of the year. He closed out the season with 13 straight games below 65 yards. … Cruz didn’t even catch a pass in these clubs’ previous meeting. While we can count on Cruz to be out there for over 80% of the snaps, Cruz drew just two red-zone targets from Week 6 on and went over 50 yards once in the Giants’ final nine games. He’s in the same conversation with Jermaine Kearse and Geronimo Allison as DFS punts that cost near the minimum but have goose-egg floors. It’s interesting to note that Cruz (10) hauled in four more 20-plus-yard plays than Shepard (6) this season despite seeing 33 fewer targets. With the Packers’ attention likely to be focused on Beckham, I’m leaving the light on for Cruz to surprise with a big play. … Tye was a popular Week 5 DFS play against Green Bay, only to finish with 37 scoreless yards as Eli overthrew him on a would-be walk-in 60-yard touchdown. Tight ends always have good matchups against the Packers, but Tye hit pay dirt in 1-of-16 games and cleared 55 yards in 0-of-16. That shortage of season-long production has me looking elsewhere for tight end plays this week.
Score Prediction: Packers 23, Giants 17