Divisional Weekend NFL DFS Starting Points: Vegas Lines
You know that targeting the highest scoring games and particularly the teams with the highest implied totals makes sense in fantasy football. With only four games in this weekend’s playoff slate—please, play the four-game slate, not the two, two-game slates—I’m going to give a DFS perspective on each. All salaries listed are for FanDuel.
The high scoring games:
Tennessee at New England, Total 47
At first glance, this game is frustrating because I really want to use the Patriots defense; Tennessee turned the ball over 25 times this season, eighth-most in the league. They also scored an average of just 20.9 points per game during the regular season, fewer than any other team still alive in the playoffs. Finally, look at that spread! The Patriots are huge home favorites this week, something to target in a D/ST. So, the wrinkle comes when you look at positional matchups. New England started and ended the season a bit loose on defense, to be generous. They shored up mid-way through to some extent, yet still ended the year allowing the seventh-most fantasy points to quarterbacks and fourth-most to wide receivers. As we’ll see below, defense has been winning games this year, and it’s hard to pass on Marcus Mariota with that statistical advantage, not to mention that he’ll be forced to throw to keep pace with the potent Patriots’ offense.
Let’s talk about the New England offense. Tom Brady led the league in passing yards and finished third with 32 passing touchdowns. He’s the most expensive QB this week for good reason, including the ability to not turn the ball over (New England finished the season with just 12 total turnovers, 8 INTs). I’m making it a priority to fit Terrific Tom in my lineups this week. Whom you pair him with—if anyone—is where things will get interesting. He’ll get Chris Hogan back to add to his receiving arsenal of Rob Gronkowski, Brandin Cooks, Danny Amendola and Dion Lewis. I expect all to be utilized, with Cooks being a great tournament target at $7700. Solo Brady is fine here, as is Brady-Gronk, Brady-Cooks or Brady-Lewis. A rare tournament lineup could feature all four if you really skimp elsewhere but I don’t recommend it.
If you’re buying the cheap seats to the big game, so to speak, it’s Mariota and Derrick Henry, who has already been indicated as the starter whether DeMarco Murray plays or not. Neither Delanie Walker nor Rishard Matthews are seeing enough action, or have produced on the limited targets they’re getting, to bother with. I like Corey Davis’ volume (seven targets last week) and price for a GPP flier. Henry has been simply awesome in the two games Murray missed, with a decent 4.1 yards per carry average and three catches for 101 yards, not to mention a touchdown in each. At nearly $1000 less than Lewis, the Titans need Henry more than the Pats need Lewis making Henry the safer back from this game.
New Orleans at Minnesota, Total 45
Minnesota has dominated on defense to a level that’s not widely appreciated. They ranked 31st in passing yards and rushing yards per game allowed this season (208.1 and 83.6, respectively). That’s the next best defense to the Jaguars in both stats. The Saints have explosive weapons in Alvin Kamara, Mark Ingram, Michael Thomas and of course, Drew Brees, but I am keeping expectations in check. In fact, it might be Ted Ginn, Jr. again who saves the day in the North. He worked for us last week, and I don’t think it was mere revenge. Rather, I think teams are so committed to stopping the dual-threat run game the Saints have been dominating with that the speedy Ginn is able to find room downfield. Xavier Rhodes will cover Thomas, adding to the intrigue of the very affordable $5900 Ginn Jr. this weekend.
The Vikings face a Saints defense that finished overall in the middle of the pack in most statistical measures for fantasy. Highlights include tying with New England and Tennessee for the sixth-most sacks, and finishing ninth-best with 25 takeaways (including 20 interceptions). Those interceptions are the result of a noticeably improved secondary (thanks rookie Marshon Lattimore) and make me somewhat nervous about Case Keenum. Keenum, to his credit, has been a good ball protector, with only seven interceptions to his 22 TDs this season, but I prefer to roster the receivers here. Stefon Diggs seems to have re-taken the WR1 role and will cost you $300 less, but Adam Thielen is still very relevant. Mixing and matching these two in your lineups to hedge should be a smart strategy. Latavious Murray finished the season STRONG to say the least. The Saints rank as the third best running back matchup for fantasy among teams playing this week, but none are even in the top half of the league in that category. If you’re taking a shot here, and the salary is reasonable enough to do so, go with Murray in all but the highest risk/reward lineup where it’s possible to justify Jerrick McKinnon for $300 less. Note that while Greg Olsen had a great day vs. the Saints last week, overall this has not been a positive tight end matchup, and Kyle Rudolph, though a touchdown threat any given week, doesn’t have the volume I want in the position this week.
The low scoring games:
Atlanta at Philadelphia, Total 41
Much has been made of this line, as it is rather historic that the visiting, lower-seed team is favored in the Divisional Round of the playoffs, but it hasn’t budged yet. The total has come down from its open at 43 points, but Atlanta is carrying some momentum into the City of Brotherly Love. Their balanced run game won them the game in Los Angeles last weekend, but it’s likely that the outcome here will depend on Matt Ryan’s arm and Julio Jones’ hands. Philadelphia is the best rushing defense in the country, allowing just 79.2 rushing yards per game. The silver lining for Devonta Freeman and Tevin Coleman is that the Eagles allowed only six rushing, but five receiving touchdowns to opposing backs this season. In general, I’d rather use the running backs discussed above in most contests. I’m targeting Ryan and Jones liberally in cash game or tournament lineups thanks to their long-term connection and favorable defense they’ll face. Mohamed Sanu finished 31st in targets and 17th in receptions this season, and is priced under $6K. If he scores, he almost certainly reaches value this week.
If I were the Eagles, I’d be happy to be playing as the home dog this week. Atlanta’s defense is average and Nick Foles has had plenty of time to acclimate to the offense. He showed what he’s capable of in his first start vs. the Giants, but has struggled since. Of course, one of those games was completely meaningless but still it wasn’t a great way to end the regular season. Nelson Agholor will remain my favorite Eagles receiver again this week, but Alshon Jeffrey certainly fits and should be part of the formula for Philly. And don’t forget about Zach Ertz! Tying for second in the league among tight ends with eight receiving touchdowns, and tying for third in receptions this season, a fully healthy Ertz has seen 10 or more targets in five games this season. Finally, Jay Ajayi. There are a lot of bodies in the Eagles backfield, but Ajayi will likely lead them in carries. However, he’s scored just twice this season, once on a fluky pass play, and exceeded 100 yards rushing only twice. The upside simply isn’t there, in my opinion.
Jacksonville at Pittsburgh, Total 40.5
Another low scoring Jaguars game is likely on tap for Sunday afternoon. This defense is not one to trifle with. Expecting multi-touchdown games for Ben Roethlisberger and Antonio Brown is a long shot (they both put up a goose egg in that department in the first game), as Big Ben threw five interceptions the first time they played. It’s a feat I don’t expect him to repeat, but largely because I expect a conservative game plan rather than a mistake free passing bonanza. Le’Veon Bell has a good chance to be the best running back of the week. He’s priced as such, perhaps because he was so effective in the passing game when these teams met back in October (10-of-10 receiving). When the total is low, even though the Steelers are big favorites, my inclination is to stick with the stars. Thus, JuJu Smith-Schuster and Martavis Bryant, as well as Jesse James, are not on my radar. The Steelers defense is one to consider if you can afford them and decide to use some Titans.
I expected the Jaguars to run last week on the Bills, and run they did! I was wrong in thinking it would be Leonard Fournette instead of Blake Bortles, but the principle was correct. I’ll use Fournette again this week, as the Steelers are a better rushing matchup than passing. They led the league in sacks (56), so while Bortles showed his mobility off last week, I expect him to be constantly under pressure Sunday. I want no part of the pass game of the team with the lowest total of the week in what I view as much more of a slug fest than a shootout.