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Inside the Matchup
Wildcard Weekend

By: Andy Swanson | Jason Katz | Nick Caron | Jake Gordon


- Green highllight indicates plus matchup (top eight)
- Red highlight indicates negative matchup (bottom eight)

Titans @ Chiefs - (Caron)

Passing Game Thoughts: Despite a terrible season from Marcus Mariota and their passing game, the Titans narrowly sneaked into the playoffs and will face an intriguing fantasy matchup here on Wildcard weekend against the Chiefs. Kansas City has been playing well against the pass down the stretch but much of that has to be attributed to the poor opposing passing games that they’ve been matched up against. Even still, the Chiefs have conceded at least one touchdown pass in 12 of their past 13 games, giving Mariota a double-digit floor in this game. While tight end Delanie Walker is normally one of the better plays on the board, he does have a tough matchup here, facing the Chiefs and their sixth-ranked fantasy defense against the tight end position. Kansas City gave up just three touchdowns to the position throughout the regular season -- tied for second-fewest in the league, and they’ve held their last two opponents’ tight ends to just 26 total yards with no scores. Instead, where Kansas City has been exploited is by wide receivers. The Chiefs have given up the most fantasy points to opposing wide receivers this season, including a whopping eight games of 40-plus PPR points to the position. This bodes well for the Titans’ pass catchers, namely Eric Decker who has been playing primarily out of the slot and will likely avoid much attention from cornerback Marcus Peters. Rishard Matthews will likely see Peters most while Corey Davis plays the opposite side on the outside in what could be a good matchup, but he has yet to prove himself as a quality fantasy asset this season.

KC FPts Allowed vs. QBs: No.8
KC FPts Allowed vs. RBs: No.24
KC FPts Allowed vs. WRs: No.1
KC FPts Allowed vs. TEs: No.24

Running Game Thoughts: With DeMarco Murray out this week, Derrick Henry will again shoulder the load for the Titans in what could be another heavy usage game. Henry’s rushing yardage was horrendous in his grinding Week 17 game against a tough Jaguars defense but he made up for it with a long receiving touchdown, thus covering up the negative perception that would’ve almost certainly followed him into the playoffs. Henry is one of the few true “workhorse” backs that’s playing on Wild Card weekend but he’ll be against a top-10 fantasy run defense that gave up just one 100-yard rusher on the season - Le’Veon Bell back in Week 6. Henry’s best chance to make an impact on the fantasy scoreboard is by scoring a touchdown, which his skill set certainly indicates he could do, provided that the Chiefs don’t get too far ahead on the scoreboard.

Value Meter:
QB1: Marcus Mariota (high floor, low ceiling)
RB1: Derrick Henry
WR2: Rishard Matthews
Flex: Eric Decker
Bench: DeMarco Murray, Corey Davis, Taywan Taylor, Delanie Walker

Passing Game Thoughts: The Titans were one of the league’s worst pass defenses through their first 10 games but they’ve been improving down the stretch. Tennessee gave up just six passing touchdowns over their final six games of the regular season, and four of those touchdowns came in one game against Jared Goff in Week 16. Of course, the quality of opponent hasn’t been great, but Tennessee seems to be playing better now than they were early in the year. That doesn’t exactly bode well for quarterback Alex Smith who has not been great from a fantasy standpoint over the second half of the season, posting just two multiple-touchdown games since the team’s Week 10 bye. The good thing about Smith, however, is that he continues to key in on his top two pass catchers, Tyreek Hill and Travis Kelce, who both finished as elite fantasy options at their position.

Kelce caught at least three passes in all but one game this season prior to sitting in Week 17 when the Chiefs had nothing to play for, and he finished as either the No.1 or No.2 tight end in fantasy depending on your scoring system. He’s one of the few tight ends who has the potential to post WR1 numbers in any matchup. The Titans have been vulnerable this season against opposing wide receivers, having given up 11 double-digit fantasy days (non-PPR) to the position during the regular season, but what’s interesting is that they’ve actually done a decent job of shutting down the deep passing attack. Some of that is likely due to the breakout season from safety Kevin Byard, but it’s also a schematic approach which does not necessarily favor a player like Hill who is one of the biggest home run hitters in the league. Hill does get enough volume that he’ll probably still be a quality fantasy option this week but the Titans might end up floating extra coverage in his direction which could lead to another higher-than-expected target volume for Albert Wilson, who has been targeted 19 times over the past two weeks and does make for a sneaky low-priced shot-in-the-dark-type DFS play.

TEN FPts Allowed vs. QBs: No.11
TEN FPts Allowed vs. RBs: No.25
TEN FPts Allowed vs. WRs: No.13
TEN FPts Allowed vs. TEs: No.15

Running Game Thoughts: The Chiefs started the season by feeding the ball to Kareem Hunt and they got off to an impressive 5-0 start, only to deviate from that approach in the middle of the season, which perhaps coincidentally coincided with a rough losing patch. They’ve gone back to what worked early in the season as of late, and now it’s reasonable to think that Kareem Hunt will be again in line for a 20-plus touch day here in the Wildcard round. Hunt broke off a 35-yard touchdown on his only carry in Week 17 which allowed him to finish the season as the NFL’s leading rusher, as a rookie, and a top five overall running back for fantasy purposes. With that score, Hunt has now reached the end zone at least once in each of his past four games after a nine-game no-touchdown streak in the middle of the season.

The Titans have been a great run defense all season and have given up just one 100-yard rushing day (Todd Gurley in Week 16) but they’ve otherwise held almost every runner they’ve faced in check. Still, given that this is the playoffs and the Chiefs are a heavy home favorite, there’s a good shot that Hunt delivers solid fantasy value this week and he should be considered a top-four option at the position for the week.

Value Meter:
QB1: Alex Smith
RB1: Kareem Hunt
WR1: Tyreek Hill
TE1 Travis Kelce
Bench: Charcandrick West, Akeem Hunt, Albert Wilson (possible cheap DFS play), Demarcus Robinson

Prediction: Chiefs 27, Titans 20 ^ Top

Falcons @ Rams - (Swanson)

Passing Game Thoughts: Matt Ryan and the Falcons avoided a Super Bowl hangover by sneaking into the playoffs as the sixth seed and final wildcard team after defeating the Panthers 20-10 in Week 17.

Although Ryan and the Falcons offense technically avoided a Super Bowl hangover with a second consecutive playoff berth, the Atlanta offense was a far cry of the unit that led the league in scoring last year with 540 points. The Falcons scored 187 fewer points as Matt Ryan suffered negative regression to the mean after his MVP season, and Julio Jones continued to be one of the most disappointing touchdown producers (only three TDs) despite finishing with 1444 yards on 88 receptions.

A consensus top 6 QB pick on most draft boards this summer, Ryan did not live up to expectations with 20 passing touchdowns, 12 interceptions, and 4095 passing yards. His 18.7 points per game placed him 22nd overall in points per game, behind fantasy stalwarts like Josh McCown, C.J. Beathard, Blake Bortles, and Jimmy Garoppolo. When you consider the fact that Ryan scored 111 fewer points this year than last, the reigning MVP should garner serious consideration as the most disappointing fantasy quarterback in 2017.

With the regular season behind him, Ryan will look to start fresh in the playoffs against a Los Angeles team that ended the regular season allowing the 24th-most points to opposing quarterbacks. The Rams closed out the final month of the year allowing the sixth-most points to quarterbacks, including a four-touchdown performance by Carson Wentz and the Eagles Week 14. Ryan will need to put up similar numbers against the Rams on Saturday for the Falcons to have any chance of keeping pace with the league’s top scoring offense.

On the injury front, three of Ryan’s favorite targets in the passing game were limited with injuries on Wednesday, as Devonta Freeman (knee), Julio Jones (ankle/ribs), and Taylor Gabriel (hamstring) all were limited participants on the team’s official injury report. All three players, including starting center Alex Mack (Calf), are expected to play against the Rams.

Freeman will be a critical player for the Falcons in both the running and passing game, as the primary way teams found success moving the ball vs. Los Angeles this season was on the ground (Rams allowed the second-most points to opposing RBs). No.1 wide receivers also found some success versus Wade Phillips’ defensive unit, with DeAndre Hopkins, Pierre Garcon, Dez Bryant, Larry Fitzgerald, and Alshon Jeffery all reaching close to 100 yards and/or a touchdown against Los Angeles.

LAR FPts Allowed vs. QBs: No.24
LAR FPts Allowed vs. RBs: No.2
LAR FPts Allowed vs. WRs: No.23
LAR FPts Allowed vs. TEs: No.11

Running Game Thoughts: Only the Buffalo Bills allowed more points to opposing running backs in 2017, and only four teams allowed more rushing yards than the Rams, a group that boasts one of the best defensive lineman in Aaron Donald and a linebacking corps led by Alec Ogletree.

The Falcons do not have the offensive firepower to keep pace with the Rams and their defensive unit that allowed the 25th-most points will struggle to contain Todd Gurley and Jared Goff. The best course of action for Dan Quinn and the Falcons is to attempt to control time of possession and limit the number of touches for Gurley and Goff while limiting the number of big plays by the Los Angeles offense.

The tandem of Devonta Freeman and Tevin Coleman finished the regular season scorning the 8th most fantasy points, just .8 points per game behind the No.6 ranked Los Angeles Chargers backfield. Freeman averaged 11.9 points per game to finish as the No.11 ranked running back in fantasy, while Coleman took a step back from his 2016 season to end 2017 as the No.22 ranked running back at 9.4 points per game.

The two tailbacks combined for 63 receptions for 616 yards and four receiving touchdowns this season. Their shared ability to catch passes out of the backfield and create yardage in space will be an important weapon for Ryan as he faces a pass rush that finished No.4 in the league with 48 sacks.

Value Meter:
QB2: Matt Ryan (High-End)
RB1: Devonta Freeman (Mid-Range)
RB2: Tevin Coleman (High-End)
WR1: Julio Jones (Elite)

Passing Game Thoughts: The Sean McVay effect in Los Angeles has been nothing short of miraculous, as the first year head coach took the league’s worst scoring offense in 2016 and turned it into the highest scoring unit in 2017. Jared Goff went from an awkward looking first round bust to the No.12 ranked fantasy quarterback, with 28 touchdowns and 3809 passing yards, to go along with and just seven interceptions. The second-year quarterback from Cal threw the same number of interceptions as in his rookie season, but on 273 more pass attempts. Goff increased his completion percentage from a pathetic 54.6% clip in 2016 to a respectable 62.1%, and his yards per attempt (7.98) trails only Drew Brees and Alex Smith.

Improvements to the offensive line, including the addition of pro-bowl left tackle Andrew Whitworth, played a significant role in the dramatic improvement of the Rams’ offense in 2017. The offensive line went from one of the worst units in football last season to the No.3 ranked run blocking, and No.9 ranked pass blocking line according to

Perhaps the most dramatic development in the passing game, and an indictment to the ineptitude of Jeff Fisher as a head coach was the evolution of running back Todd Gurley in the passing game. The former first-round pick from Georgia matched his career total of receptions from his previous two seasons with 64 catches for 788 yards and six touchdowns. Gurley scored more fantasy points as a receiver than Amari Cooper in 2017, and when added to his league-leading 1305 rushing yards and 13 rushing touchdowns, Gurley proved to be the league-winning fantasy MVP for 2017.

There is little to suggest that Goff and Gurley will not be able to continue their breakout season on Saturday against the Falcons. Atlanta finished the season as the No.9 ranked defense in yards allowed, but they did give up the 14th most points to opposing quarterbacks, and 11 different wide receivers managed to score double-digit points against the Atlanta secondary.

No other team in the league allowed more receptions to running backs out of the backfield than the Falcons, making Todd Gurley and his ability to dominate as a pass-catching back a red flag for Dan Quinn and his defense. Quinn may opt to spy Gurley with linebacker Deion Jones or strong safety Ricardo Allen, but that may backfire and give Goff the ability to attack the middle of the field with Cooper Kupp and Robert Woods.

ATL FPts Allowed vs. QBs: No.15
ATL FPts Allowed vs. RBs: No.26
ATL FPts Allowed vs. WRs: No.22
ATL FPts Allowed vs. TEs: No.21

Running Game Thoughts: Todd Gurley jumped from the No.30 running back in fantasy points per game in 2016 (9.8) to the No.1 fantasy player in 2017 (21.6). His return to the dominant player that he flashed as a rookie made him the fantasy MVP for 2017 and a league winner for anyone fortunate enough to land him in drafts last summer. The former Georgia Bulldog scored at least 11 fantasy points in every game this season but one, and his 81.6 points in the playoffs single-handedly secured the title for his owners.

Although Atlanta finished the regular season strong as the third-best defense in limiting fantasy points to opposing running backs over the past three games, there is no reason to think that Gurley will not have a monster day in the Rams first home playoff game in over 20 years.

Look for Gurley to get a big chunk of his yardage in the air and not on the ground against a Falcons unit that allowed only one 100-yard rusher in 2017. Only Jay Ajayi of the Dolphins (before getting traded to Philly) managed to reach the century mark against the Falcons, but no other defensive unit allowed more receptions than the Falcons.

On the injury front, Atlanta enters the game relatively healthy on defense, with pass rushing specialist Adrian Clayborn as the only Falcon listed on the team’s official report. His calf injury limited him at practice on Wednesday, but he is fully expected to play on Saturday.

Value Meter:
QB1: Jared Goff (High-End)
RB1: Todd Gurley (Elite)
WR1: Robert Woods (High-End)
WR1: Cooper Kupp (Low-End)
TE1: Gerald Everett (Low-End)

Prediction: Rams 32, Falcons 28 ^ Top

Bills at Jaguars - (Katz)

Passing Game Thoughts: The Bills’ path to the postseason was a tumultuous one. Sean McDermott does not deserve this after unceremoniously benching Tyrod Taylor for the awful Nate Peterman resulting in a loss that, if not for the Baltimore Ravens’ sudden inability to play defense, would have cost the Bills the sixth and final playoff spot. But the Bills are here and Taylor certainly earned every bit of this opportunity. Unfortunately, his reward is a trip to Jacksonville to face the best defense in the league. The Bills (+8.5) are tied with the Titans as Wild Card Weekend’s biggest underdog, which bodes well for Taylor’s chances of throwing a lot of passes, but not so well for his overall success in completing them. Jalen Ramsey and A.J. Bouye are the best cornerback duo in the league and will have no trouble locking down Kelvin Benjamin and whichever of Deonte Thompson and Zay Jones lines up outside. Charles Clay makes the most sense to continue leading the team in targets. He has 27 over his past three games and the Bills’ best shot at attacking the Jaguars is via the slot and the tight end. Clay is the only Bill worth starting in daily lineups and I would not consider any Bill in full playoff leagues.

JAC FPts Allowed vs. QBs: No.31
JAC FPts Allowed vs. RBs: No.21
JAC FPts Allowed vs. WRs: No.32
JAC FPts Allowed vs. TEs: No.22

Running Game Thoughts: The “not consider any Bill” approach applies to the running backs as well. Aside from the fact that it is unlikely the Bills play more than just this game, LeSean McCoy is highly questionable with an ankle injury. Ultimately, since this is a playoff game, I expect McCoy to be active. His effectiveness with an injured ankle remains to be seen. He relies heavily on his cutting ability and an injured ankle severely hinders his explosiveness. The Bills absolutely need Shady to have any shot at winning. If McCoy simply cannot move well enough to play at a productive level, Mike Tolbert and Marcus Murphy will shoulder the load. Neither of them should even be remotely considered in any format. Even if McCoy is healthy enough to play and we know in advance, he still can’t be trusted to play a full game making him a poor option for full playoff leagues or daily lineups.

Value Meter:
TE2: Charles Clay
Bench: Tyrod Taylor, Kelvin Benjamin, LeSean McCoy

Passing Game Thoughts: The Jaguars being 8.5 point favorites is not good for the passing game. This team has a championship caliber roster except for one position – quarterback. I firmly believe that Blake Bortles is going to be the reason the Jaguars inevitably fail to reach the Super Bowl. It won’t happen this week though, as Doug Marrone will do what he’s done all season and hide Bortles. The game plan will be to get a lead and sit it on it. The Jaguars should be able to do just that with Bortles attempting somewhere around just 20 passes. It makes starting guys like Keelan Cole and Dede Westbrook exceedingly difficult. Neither is a strong playoff long option, but Cole is a viable contrarian daily play as the best receiver on the Jaguars and the one most likely to produce when Bortles does actually throw. Given that the Jaguars will likely play two games, you could take a shot on Cole in full playoff leagues, but I would not recommend it. With Allen Hurns also back in the fold and Marqise Lee being reported as likely to suit up, there are too many options and not enough volume to play any of these guys.

BUF FPts Allowed vs. QBs: No.26
BUF FPts Allowed vs. RBs: No.1
BUF FPts Allowed vs. WRs: No.27
BUF FPts Allowed vs. TEs: No.14

Running Game Thoughts: One of opening weekend’s best plays is Leonard Fournette. He fits perfectly into the Jaguars’ plans. With the regular season over and every game of the utmost importance, there’s no more protecting Fournette. He will handle all the work he can. I would not be shocked if he touched the ball 30 times in a game I expect the Jaguars to lead wire to wire. Fournette is your best bet for a touchdown at the RB position this week (well, him and Todd Gurley). But you’re only getting one. Fournette played in 13 games this season, scoring a touchdown in nine of them and only scoring a second touchdown in a single game. Another underrated aspect of Fournette’s game is his pass catching ability. He’s been replaced by T.J. Yeldon frequently in passing situations, but has still maintained a solid floor in the passing game, catching at least one pass in every game he’s played and at least three in each of his final five games. Fournette is the total package this weekend. He’s playing at home as a heavy favorite for a team that wants to run as much as possible and is the goal line back. With the Jaguars all but certain to play at least two games, Fournette is an elite daily option and a strong playoff long option as well.

Value Meter:
RB1: Leonard Fournette
Bench: Blake Bortles, Dede Westbrook, Allen Hurns, Marqise Lee, Keelan Cole, T.J. Yeldon

Prediction: Jaguars 23, Bills 10 ^ Top

Panthers @ Saints - (Gordon)

Passing Game Thoughts: If you have ever played sports you might have run into the same situation as the Panthers. Meeting for the third time, in the post-season and your team has not won either of the first two contests. Cam Newton’s three interception game against the Falcons in Week 17 certainly helped the Panthers lose the division and find themselves on the road this week. It’s a big shift considering they are now also playing one of the best quarterback-coach pairings in the league. They are not only underdogs in Vegas but for fantasy purposes as well.

Cam Newton represents one of the streakiest fantasy quarterbacks available this post-season. I might sound like a broken record but the combination of poor accuracy combined with limited passing attempts makes me leery of using Newton in my playoff lineup. At 30.8 passing attempts per game during the regular season, Newton’s opportunity for fantasy success is completely reliant on touchdowns and added value in the rushing game. Over the past six weeks, Newton only has one rushing score to his name so fantasy managers deciding whether or not to play Newton this week should really look at his touchdown upside. Those prospects go way up with TE Greg Olsen suiting up for the first time this year against the Saints. Olsen and Newton only connected on one of nine passes a week ago but I doubt they will be as disappointing this weekend. Despite receiving plenty of targets, Olsen’s return from injury has been shaky and the Saints have been the fifth toughest defense against opposing fantasy tight ends in 2017. In a normal week I’d probably find an alternative but he remains one of the best fantasy bets at the position not named Travis Kelce on a four-game slate. The shine might be fading from Devin Funchess’ breakout fantasy campaign but his usefulness remains. The team has been resting him during the week while dealing with a shoulder injury but he suits up on gameday and usually comes through with a decent WR2 effort. Having both Funchess and Olsen available pushes Cam Newton into the start category for me. I hate the downside, but in the smaller pool of playoff fantasy formats ceiling matters more.

NO FPts Allowed vs. QBs: No.13
NO FPts Allowed vs. RBs: No.18
NO FPts Allowed vs. WRs: No.15
NO FPts Allowed vs. TEs: No.28

Running Game Thoughts: Jonathan Stewart (back) was limited in practice Wednesday but all indications are that he will play this weekend. He’s hardly a solid fantasy option but has RB2 potential any given week. The veteran is signed through the 2018 season but figures to see less work in the future so expect him to run hard when he is given the rock. New Orleans has seen their rush defense decline towards the end of the regular season yielding over 20 standard fantasy points per game over the past three games. If Stewart can find a way to punch one into the end zone on Sunday his peripheral stats should be good enough to give him top 8 potential. That might be wishful thinking but given the limited number of running backs to choose from a rested Stewie shouldn’t be overlooked. Christian McCaffrey was a mild disappointment a week ago after gaining only 54 total yards on eleven touches. His presence in the backfield allows the Panthers to do so many things that he is one of the safest bets to get both touches and yards this week. The Saints have given up four touchdowns to opposing running backs over the past three games with two of them coming via the pass. It’s a good situation for McCaffrey so give him moderate upside with his already high floor.

Value Meter:
QB1: Cam Newton
RB2: Christian McCaffrey
WR2: Devin Funchess
TE1: Greg Olsen
Flex: Brenton Bersin
Bench: Russell Shepard, Jonathan Stewart

Passing Game Thoughts: After jockeying with the Carolina Panthers throughout the year, the NFC South Division title finally went to the Saints after 17 weeks. That’s nice for record keeping purposes but bragging rights won’t mean much if New Orleans can’t get by them when the game matters most. The good news is New Orleans has only lost one game in the Superdome this year-way back in Week 2 against the Patriots. Additionally, they have won their past five home playoff games with their last loss in the Superdome coming in 1992. The bad news is that it is very tough beating a playoff caliber opponent three times in the same year.

If the Panthers want to win this game they really need to get pressure on the quarterback. Drew Brees has been a technician at dissecting defenses all season finishing the regular season with a career best completion percentage of 72.1 percent. He’s been slightly better (47 of 63) in his two outings versus Carolina this year and hasn’t posted less than 15 fantasy points at home in the past three years. Perhaps the one stat that sticks out the most with Brees this year is the fact he has thrown for the fifth most first downs in the NFL despite ranking only 18th passing attempts per game. He is a high floor fantasy option that has seen less volume due to the improved defense. Being Drew Brees’ top receiver in the passing game has long been a favorable fantasy asset and this year was no different. Michael Thomas now has two regular seasons under his belt and he has finished both seasons as a top 10 fantasy receiver. He’ll continue to ride that success into the post season and is a no brainer for fantasy managers in one-week playoff formats as well as playoff-long fantasy rosters. Ted Ginn Jr. opened the year averaging 17.65 yards per catch through his first eight weeks of the year but that number has dropped to 10.87 in his previous seven games. As noted above, Brees’ efficiency has decreased the overall targets in the passing game and that makes Ginn a liability in the fake game. As the third option behind Thomas and Alvin Kamara, Ginn falls into the Flex category despite being a starter in a quality offense. Brandon Coleman has three touchdowns in six career games against the Panthers but only one has come at home and he has seen more than four targets in a game only twice this season.

CAR FPts Allowed vs. QBs: No.20
CAR FPts Allowed vs. RBs: No.30
CAR FPts Allowed vs. WRs: No.5
CAR FPts Allowed vs. TEs: No.23

Running Game Thoughts: Alvin Kamara and Mark Ingram have each had one good and one great game against Carolina this season. It shouldn’t be a big surprise to know both players did better in their home matchup. That bodes well for their chances this week and makes them popular choices across all formats for this round of the playoffs. Carolina has been tough against the run all year and hasn’t allowed a rushing score over its past three games. Ingram has been bottled up against solid defenses this year but at the Superdome where his fantasy points per game is 6.2 higher than on the road. There are some really good running backs to choose from and this isn’t the best matchup for Kamara given the way Carolina plays the run. Fortunately, he doesn’t need to rush well to make a fantasy impact. The former Tennessee Vol has caught at least five passes in eight of his past nine games played racking up plenty of yardage in the process. Whatever he gets in the running game is simply a bonus. I understand if you’d rather take Todd Gurley or Leonard Fournette over a guy splitting carries in a tough matchup but Sean Peyton isn’t going to hold back the most dynamic play-maker in his arsenal either.

Value Meter:
QB1: Drew Brees
RB1: Alvin Kamara, Mark Ingram
WR1: Michael Thomas
Flex: Ted Ginn Jr.
Bench: Brandon Coleman, Josh Hill, Coby Fleener, Willie Snead

Prediction: Saints 30, Panthers 24 ^ Top