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Doug Orth | Archive | Email |
Staff Writer


Playoff Fantasy Football: Divisional Round
Road to the Super Bowl
1/14/16

As I have for the past six-plus years, I will continue sharing my thoughts on my NFL.com Playoff Challenge entry and playoff money leagues with Fuzzy's Fantasy Football as we head into the second week of postseason odyssey. Let’s get right to it:

NFL.com

For a complete rundown of how players will score fantasy points for your team, click on the “Rules & Prizing” link on the NFL.com entry page. Much of the content immediately below is included on the “How to Play” page, although the information I provide below should be more than enough to follow along easily.

NFL.com Playoff Challenge scoring system

The requirements: one QB, two RBs, two WRs, one TE, one K and one D/ST. You will earn fantasy points based on their on-field performance during their game, and if your player's team wins, you will have the option to carry that player over to the next round, where he will earn a bonus point modifier to his score (which will be referred to as 2x, 3x and 4x from here on out).

For example, if you pick Aaron Rodgers in the Wild Card round and the Packers win, you can carry him over to the Divisional Round, and earn two times (2x) the points he earns in his divisional round game. If Green Bay wins again, you can carry Rodgers into the Conference Championship round for 3x the points and, if the Packers make the Super Bowl, you can earn 4x the points. In addition, a user can select a player/defense in the Wild Card round even if their team has a bye into the Divisional Round. In this case, the user would not earn any points for the Wild Card round, but be eligible to earn 2x points in the Divisional round, since the player was on the teamís roster for two weekly scoring periods. Further bonus point modifiers would also apply as long as that playerís team continues to advance in the NFL Playoffs.


Before we get into the picks, let’s briefly review the rules and how we may use them to our advantage: 1) passing TDs are worth four points, so passing yards are valued more highly here than in the Fuzzy’s leagues I’ll discuss later; 2) all field goals under 50 yards are worth three points, which means we are more concerned about volume of field goals than distance – unless we can find a kicker who regularly converts from 50-plus (DraftKings does not use kickers); 3) this is a non-PPR format, which obviously favors the big-play threats (both Fuzzy's and DraftKings are PPR); and 4) team wins are worth five points, so picking a “winning” defense is worth almost a touchdown.

Let's get the No. 1 rule of this game out of the way right now: if you have a good feeling about which two teams will meet in the Super Bowl, build your lineup exclusively from players from those two teams. Last year's champion built his lineup with only players from the Seattle Seahawks and New England Patriots. (In other words, he took a zero in the first week since both the Seahawks and Patriots were on a bye.) The multipliers are everything in this contest, so playing the week-to-week matchups is nearly meaningless. Think about it this way: if I told you that your regular-season fantasy team's scoring would double in Week 2, triple in Week 3 and quadruple in Week 4 if you simply left it the same, would it affect your draft strategy? Of course it would. The big week your team might post in the first week of this challenge - in the somewhat unlikely event you played the matchups to a tee - is going to seem rather insignificant in early February when every passing touchdown is worth 16 points and every other TD is worth 24 and the top teams in this competition are scoring 200-300 (or perhaps more) points.

Therefore, the main challenges are (in order): 1) correctly predicting the two conference winners and 2) forecasting the best fantasy players in that hypothetical Super Bowl matchup.

So far, so good. I went 4-for-4 with my straight-up picks last weekend, which means I'm one step closer to identifying the correct Super Bowl teams. Since the first round of the playoffs pretty much played out as I predicted, I will not be spending much time on this section and focusing more on the DFS/Fuzzy's section.

Quarterbacks

Cam Newton/Tom Brady/Carson Palmer/Alex Smith/Russell Wilson

The call: Carson Palmer (2x). No change here. Arizona is still my NFC favorite. Green Bay is not an intimidating matchup this week, especially considering the Packers figure to be without CB Sam Shields (concussion) again. I doubt we'll see a repeat of the 38-8 rout we saw in Week 16, but the Cardinals are a far superior team in my estimation, so I'd lean toward another fairly sizeable margin in the desert. Assuming Arizona moves past Green Bay, Palmer could get another relatively soft matchup against the Panthers' banged-up secondary should each of the top seeds advance.

Running Backs

David Johnson

The chalk: Set Johnson in your lineup and move on.

Jonathan Stewart/James White/David Johnson/Charcandrick West/Spencer Ware/Marshawn Lynch/Christine Michael

The call: David Johnson (2x) and Spencer Ware. Since I'm carrying over Johnson from last week, I'll focus on my other pick for this spot. Unfortunately for me, the Chiefs decided to stick with their Week 17 backfield arrangement (favoring Ware over West as opposed to using to leaning on West in between the 20s and Ware in relief as well as near the goal line). I suppose if there are two consolations here, they are: 1) I doubt many people predicted a Cardinals-Chiefs Super Bowl, so I'm still in a very good place if that happens and 2) I'm making the change after one week and still positioning myself for a 3x in the Super Bowl. Although a same-team swap after one week is far from ideal, I'm still positioning myself for a very good finish in this challenge should Arizona and Kansas City continue to stay alive.

Wide Receivers

Julian Edelman/Ted Ginn/Larry Fitzgerald/Michael Floyd/John Brown/Jeremy Maclin/Antonio Brown/Doug Baldwin/Tyler Lockett/Jermaine Kearse

The call: Michael Floyd (2x) and John Brown. Floyd is a carryover, so I'll spend the rest of the time talking about my WR2 selection. Maclin was my pick last week and one I don't regret; it's not as if I could have predicted he would suffer a high-ankle sprain and/or be a secondary option against Houston when he had been mostly the primary option in each of the previous six weeks. Fitzgerald was my runner-up for the spot last week, but I’m going to make the change to Brown this week for three key reasons: 1) Maclin is obviously hurt and his injury is one that typically doesn't allow a player to perform at his peak within 1-2 weeks, 2) Fitzgerald hasn't topped seven targets, six catches or 55 yards receiving in any of his last four contests AND will see a lot of the Packers CB Casey Hayward (the team's highest-graded corner), who also doubles as the team's slot corner against three-wide formations and 3) Brown offers huge big-play potential and is the Arizona wideout that should see the easiest individual matchups consistently should Shields not play this week and should the Panthers eliminate the Seahawks.

Since I still believe in a Cardinals-Chiefs Super Bowl, it doesn't make much sense to utilize players such as Edelman and Baldwin (players I don't think will make it to the big game), which is why I'm basically left choosing between two Arizona receivers. (Shockingly, I'm still not willing to consider Albert Wilson or Chris Conley.)

Tight Ends

Greg Olsen/Rob Gronkowski/Travis Kelce

The call: Travis Kelce (2x). I can understand how some might feel like my pick of Kansas City is borne out of stubbornness, but I really don't think the case. The Chiefs' most notable strength (their front seven on defense, especially the pass rush) plays perfectly against the weaknesses of their likely two remaining AFC opponents in New England and Denver (offensive line) should Kansas City continue to advance. Maclin's injury makes it even more likely the Patriots try to contain Kelce, although I'm not sure there is another tight end in the league outside of New England more capable of pulling a Gronkowski (essentially overcoming a defense designed to stop him) than Kelce. The temptation here is strong to make the switch to Gronk and predict a Cardinals-Patriots finale, but the AFC is wide open and the idea with this entry is to have the best "contrarian Super Bowl" lineup I can have. I don't think Maclin's absence (or being limited) will have nearly the effect on the Chiefs' offense as some do, if only because I think Kansas City's defense will be much more effective stopping the New England offense than most believe. Additionally, the Chiefs should be able to scheme Kelce open just as often as the Patriots do likewise with Gronkowski. (They'll likely need to if they hope to make it past this weekend.)

Having explained why I don't consider Gronkowski an option this week, I am left only with Olsen, who ripped Seattle for seven catches, 131 yards and a touchdown in a Week 6 win. The Seahawks have clamped down against tight ends since their early-season struggles against the position, however. I'm sticking with my prediction of Seattle winning at Carolina this weekend, eliminating any further thought of switching my pick in this challenge to Olsen.

Kickers

Brandon McManus/Graham Gano/Stephen Gostkowski/Chandler Catanzaro/Cairo Santos/Steven Hauschka

The call: Chandler Catanzaro (2x).

Defense/Special Teams

Broncos/Panthers/Patriots/Cardinals/Chiefs/Seahawks

The call: Cardinals (2x).

DraftKings/Fuzzy’s

Since the pick-your-studs competition with Fuzzy's and the salary cap game of DraftKings essentially use the same PPR scoring (six points for passing touchdowns with Fuzzy's versus four fantasy points with DraftKings; three bonus points for 300 yards passing or 100 yards rushing/receiving versus no such bonus with Fuzzy's being the biggest differences), I'm going to essentially combine the two this postseason. I think by projecting each remaining team one week at a time, I will be able to kill two birds with one stone in this regard.

Below you will find my position-by-position projections. The players I have noted with an * are ones I feel should be roster staples. Please note I have included DraftKings' dollar value to each player I have projected, followed by their projected point total in that format (DraftKings and then Fuzzy's). Because I went into some detail above, I won't spend explaining each projection here - only some of the more notable ones. Each position is sorted by my DraftKings' projected point total.

Key for quarterbacks, running backs, receivers and tight ends:
P Yds - Passing Yards
P TD - Passing Touchdowns
INT - Interceptions
Ru Yds - Rushing Yards
Ru TD - Rushing Touchdowns
Rec Yds - Receiving Yards
Rec TD - Receiving Touchdowns
Rec - Receptions

 Quarterbacks
Player DK $ DK Pt Total Fuzzy’s Pt Total P Yds P TD INT Ru Yds Ru TD
Tom Brady $7,400 22.7 21.7 330 2 2 5 0
Carson Palmer $6,500 22.2 22.2 305 2 1 0 0
Cam Newton $7,500 21.2 22.2 205 1 1 40 1
Alex Smith $5,400 16.2 18.2 205 1 0 40 0
Peyton Manning $6,000 16.0 19.0 225 2 1 0 0
Russell Wilson $6,800 15.6 17.6 165 1 0 50 0
Ben Roethlisberger $7,000 13.7 13.7 280 1 2 5 0
Aaron Rodgers $6,700 13.2 14.2 205 1 1 20 0

Unlike last week, this position is quite top-heavy and features a handful of players that could throw for over 300 yards and/or multiple touchdowns. Even though Palmer's overall statistics from Arizona's Week 16 rout of Green Bay weren't all that impressive from a fantasy perspective (265 yards, two TDs, one interception), we should keep in mind that two of the Cardinals' scores in that game were defensive, possibly robbing him of three or more passing scores. The odds of the defense repeating their Week 16 scoring explosion are obviously long, so it wouldn't surprise me if Arizona makes up the difference in the passing game in a game I expect to be the least competitive of the four Divisional Round games. In theory, Brady probably possesses the most upside given his reputation and the return of Julian Edelman, but I think owners would be taking an awful risk in playing him in arguably the most difficult passing-game matchup of the week. I'm fairly certain the majority of owners will look back to the Week 6 Seattle-Carolina showdown and project another high-point total for that contest (and thus, very good games for Newton and Wilson), but I find it very hard to believe this won't be a trap game for fantasy purposes in a series that has been dominated by low-scoring battles.

 Running Backs
Player DK $ DK Pt Total Fuzzy’s Pt Total Ru Yds Ru TD Re Yds Re TD Rec
David Johnson * $6,000 20.5 20.5 80 1 35 0 3
James White $5,200 17.5 17.5 10 0 45 1 6
Spencer Ware $4,500 12.5 12.5 50 1 5 0 1
Fitzgerald Toussaint $4,200 10.5 10.5 35 0 30 0 4
Jonathan Stewart $5,800 9.5 9.5 60 0 15 0 2
C.J. Anderson $3,700 9.5 9.5 55 0 20 0 2
Andre Ellington $3,500 8.0 8.0 35 0 25 0 2
Christine Michael $4,600 7.5 7.5 55 0 10 0 1
Eddie Lacy $4,400 7.5 7.5 35 0 20 0 2
James Starks $4,000 7.5 7.5 20 0 25 0 3
Steven Jackson $3,300 7.0 7.0 30 0 20 0 2
Charcandrick West $5,500 7.0 7.0 30 0 20 0 2
Ronnie Hillman $4,100 6.0 6.0 40 0 10 0 1
Jordan Todman $3,800 5.5 5.5 35 0 10 0 1
Mike Tolbert $3,000 4.5 4.5 15 0 10 0 2
Fred Jackson $3,500 4.0 4.0 5 0 15 0 2
Brandon Bolden $3,600 4.0 4.0 25 0 5 0 1
John Kuhn $3,000 2.0 2.0 5 0 5 0 1
Cameron Artis-Payne $4,300 1.0 1.0 10 0 0 0 0

Thankfully, we have at least one staple at running back this week. Unfortunately, DeAngelo Williams appears unlikely to make it back in time from his foot injury to give us two and I'm probably not going to recommend Marshawn Lynch even if he plays (long layoff plus difficult matchup with relatively low-scoring upside for his DFS price point). For the purposes of play-the-studs and DFS competition, I think we can pretty much eliminate all but the top five from consideration. Although the Chiefs allowed only 71 catches to the running back position this season (tie for sixth-fewest in the league), the combination of poor line play and Steven Jackson lacking the explosiveness of his younger self probably makes this a James White game. Ware only has six receptions in nine games, suggesting he is a very risky pick in fantasy given the likelihood Kansas City will not be leading wire-to-wire again this weekend. While I have him projected for a touchdown above, it is very likely that is exactly what he'll need in order to be serviceable in fantasy.

This brings us to our two safest non-Johnson plays of the week: Toussaint and Stewart. Todman was the better back in the Pittsburgh backfield last week as far as I was concerned, but Toussaint handled a full workload (21 touches, including 17 carries) and out-snapped him 49-14. With Roethlisberger ailing and Antonio Brown likely unable to play, the odds are strong the Steelers will attempt to control the clock, meaning Toussaint is going to see a heavy workload again. The upside with Toussaint isn't great given his average talent level and extremely difficult matchup, but I'll take 20-plus touches from him over the potential 6-8 I might get from roughly 75 percent of the other options at this position. Stewart enjoyed his finest fantasy performance of the year in the regular-season meeting at Seattle (20 carries, 78 yards and two scores), so I can't blame any owner for rolling the dice with him with so few quality options available. Carolina is one of the best in the league in running zone-read, so I'm not worried about Stewart getting enough yards to give him a decent fantasy floor. The problems: Stewart is not the first choice of the goal line, he hasn't played since Week 14 and the Panthers don't ask him to contribute much in passing game. Most of the backs that have fared well versus the Seahawks the season in fantasy have done so because of their ability to make a few plays as a receiver. Counting on finding fantasy gold with Stewart twice in the same year against a defense that gave up a league-low five scores to the position is a very risky proposition.

 Wide Receivers
Player DK $ DK Pt Total Fuzzy’s Pt Total Ru Yds Ru TD Re Yds Re TD Rec
Julian Edelman $7,100 25.5 22.5 85 1 8
Michael Floyd * $5,100 25.0 22.0 100 1 6
Demaryius Thomas $7,000 23.5 20.5 85 1 6
Emmanuel Sanders $5,800 19.0 19.0 70 1 6
Markus Wheaton $4,300 18.0 18.0 80 1 4
Randall Cobb $5,900 17.5 17.5 15 0 50 1 5
John Brown $5,200 17.5 17.5 75 1 4
Doug Baldwin $6,800 16.5 16.5 55 1 5
Martavis Bryant $6,000 12.5 12.5 65 0 6
Larry Fitzgerald $6,500 9.5 9.5 55 0 4
Devin Funchess $3,400 7.0 7.0 40 0 3
Danny Amendola $5,500 7.0 7.0 40 0 3
Albert Wilson $3,800 7.0 7.0 40 0 3
Jermaine Kearse $3,200 6.5 6.5 35 0 3
James Jones $4,600 5.5 5.5 35 0 2
Brandon LaFell $4,000 5.5 5.5 35 0 2
Tyler Lockett $4,400 5.0 5.0 30 0 2
Jerricho Cotchery $3,000 4.5 4.5 25 0 2
Jeremy Maclin $6,400 4.5 4.5 25 0 2
Chris Conley $3,000 4.5 4.5 25 0 2
Jared Abbrederis $3,000 4.0 4.0 20 0 2
Jordan Norwood $3,000 4.0 4.0 20 0 2
Keshawn Martin $3,000 4.0 4.0 20 0 2
Darrius Heyward-Bey $3,000 3.0 3.0 20 0 1
Ted Ginn Jr. $5,000 2.5 2.5 15 0 1
Jeff Janis $3,000 2.5 2.5 15 0 1
Philly Brown $3,500 2.0 2.0 10 0 1
Kevin Smith $3,000 2.0 2.0 10 0 1
Jason Avant $3,300 1.5 1.5 5 0 1

The likely absence of Antonio Brown this weekend removes one potential staple from this group and leaves owners in a bit of a quandary for reasons I'll get to in a bit, especially in those leagues where we are asked to start three receivers (as is the case with DraftKings and Fuzzy's). Edelman returns from an eight-week absence this week and is likely to square off most of the time against Chiefs slot CB Ron Parker, who isn't exactly a plus-matchup for the Patriots' slot extraordinaire. Given New England's offensive line limitations, however, the Patriots almost need to force-feed Edelman (or Amendola) the ball. Obviously, I'm not crazy about the long layoff or the nature of his injury, but he has been practicing for nearly a month. He's a player I'm willing to take a chance on sight unseen.

Given the mystery around Floyd's knee injury in Week 17, I don't consider him the safest play either. With that said, the recent pre-Week 17 numbers would seem to suggest Floyd had taken over as Palmer's top receiving threat. He'll likely see a lot of Green Bay CB Damarious Randall, who has held up well as a rookie. Nevertheless, Fitzgerald's aforementioned matchup with Hayward may be reason enough for Palmer to pepper his outside receivers (John Brown and Floyd) with targets. The critical choice in many lineups this week will be at the final receiver slot, where I think any one of six candidates has a realistic shot at helping his owners finish in the money. The safest bet is probably Thomas, who scored twice against the Steelers in Week 15 (with Brock Osweiler at quarterback) and will likely run most of his routes against turnstile CB Antwon Blake. The highest upside bet is probably Sanders, who tagged his former team for a 10-181-1 line in the same game.

Assuming Antonio Brown cannot play this weekend, Wheaton has done enough to be a budget-conscious DFS option and will be the odds-on favorite to take over Brown's role on offense (albeit with not nearly the same kind of effectiveness). Cobb is a worth a shot simply because I expect the Cardinals to shadow James Jones with Patrick Peterson. In Week 16, defending Cobb wasn't such as much of a concern for Arizona since it still had Tyrann Mathieu; the Cardinals obviously don't have the luxury now. Since I feel like I've already laid out John Brown's reasonable path to success, I'll wrap up with Baldwin, who I believe has a juicy matchup with recently-signed slot CB Cortland Finnegan. Carolina CB Josh Norman rarely travels into the slot and Baldwin spends a great deal of time there, especially in the 3-by-1 formations Seattle has experienced so much success with over the second half of the season.

 Tight Ends
Player DK $ DK Pt Total Fuzzy’s Pt Total Ru Yds Ru TD Re Yds
Travis Kelce $5,100 21.5 21.5 85 1 7
Greg Olsen $6,900 18.0 18.0 70 1 5
Heath Miller $3,200 15.5 15.5 75 0 8
Rob Gronkowski $7,500 12.0 12.0 70 0 5
Richard Rodgers $4,000 6.0 6.0 30 0 3
Ed Dickson $2,800 4.0 4.0 20 0 2
Jermaine Gresham $2,500 3.5 3.5 15 0 2
Owen Daniels $2,500 3.5 3.5 15 0 2
Luke Willson $2,600 2.0 2.0 10 0 1
Andrew Quarless $2,500 1.5 1.5 5 0 1

Talent or defensive scheme? That is the question owners will have to ask themselves regarding Kelce this week. New England was among the best in the league defending tight ends this season and has really only faced one team recently team in which the tight end was the clear top option in the passing game and the receivers around him were league-average at best (Tennessee). If we do use the Titans as an example, it bears noting that Delanie Walker was limited to two catches in Week 15 against the Patriots, but both went for touchdowns. Despite New England HC Bill Belichick's reputation for shutting the opposing team's top offensive threat, we've seen a few examples of players this season with the ability to overcome it. I'm not going to pretend like I have a handle on what Kelce's ownership percentage will be, but I would argue that he is in line for a massive target total regardless of what New England does to stop him.

As if getting burned by Miller last week wasn't enough, I'm going to recommend him again this week (assuming Antonio Brown is unable to play). The expected clock-killing offense I expect from Pittsburgh this week will almost certainly have to involve Miller, who has long been a reliable third-down weapon for Roethlisberger. With Big Ben's shoulder likely to limit his deep throws, moving the chains (and protecting the Steelers' woeful secondary) will be more of a focus than trying to outscore the opposition. If Pittsburgh has any hope of defeating Denver, it will need a big performance from the veteran tight end. Olsen is a strong consideration simply because of the aforementioned success he enjoyed against Seattle a few months ago, but it should also be noted that Gary Barnidge is the only tight end that has topped 9.5 PPR fantasy points since Week 11. Gronkowski is always going to be in the discussion because he has proven himself to be nearly matchup-proof. With that said, Kansas City S Eric Berry has been playing at a supremely high level and should not be underestimated in terms of his ability to keep Gronk out of the end zone. I think the odds are long that Gronkowski is worth his DraftKings' price tag this week. In a play-your-studs competition, I think I'd rather trust Olsen.

Key for kickers and defense/special teams units:
XP - Extra point
FG - Field goal
PA - Points allowed
TO - Total turnovers
TD - Defensive/return touchdowns

 Kickers
Player Fuzzy's Pt Total XP FG
Cairo Santos $11 2.0 3.0
Chandler Catanzaro $9 3.0 2.0
Stephen Gostkowski $8 2.0 2.0
Steve Hauschka $8 2.0 2.0
Mason Crosby $7 1.0 2.0
Chris Boswell $7 1.0 2.0
Brandon McManus $6 3.0 1.0
Graham Gano $5 2.0 1.0


 Defense / Special Teams
Player DK $ DK Pt Total Fuzzy’s Pt Total PA Sacks TO TD
Cardinals * $3,800 21.0 21.0 10 5 3 1
Chiefs $4,000 13.0 13.0 20 4 1 1
Broncos $3,900 12.0 10.0 13 4 2 0
Seahawks $4,100 12.0 12.0 17 3 1 1
Panthers $3,700 7.0 7.0 20 2 2 0
Packers $3,400 4.0 4.0 27 2 1 0
Steelers $3,600 4.0 4.0 24 2 1 0
Patriots $3,500 2.0 2.0 23 2 0 0


I don't expect the same field day Arizona provided fantasy owners in its Week 16 thumping of the Packers, but I still feel they are the play of the week. The general consensus is that Green Bay found its offense last week and, while that be true to a certain degree, I disagree. The Packers receivers were still having trouble separating and it took some improvisational plays from Rodgers to get the offense moving. Arizona is much better in the secondary than Washington and more aggressive up front than the Redskins - a combination that does not bode well for Rodgers & Co. In a "normal" week, I would not hesitate paying up for the Seahawks or the Chiefs and certainly wouldn't be afraid to use either one in a play-your-studs format. However, I am not so confident in my Tyler Lockett kick/punt return for a touchdown or Kansas City pick-six prediction that I'm willing to pay the extra few hundred dollars than I would for the Cardinals. Without a doubt, I feel Arizona and Denver are the safest plays at this position.

Doug Orth has written for FF Today since 2006 and been featured in USA Today’s Fantasy Football Preview magazine since 2010. He hosted USA Today’s hour-long, pre-kickoff fantasy football internet chat every Sunday in 2012-13 and appears as a guest analyst on a number of national sports radio shows, including Sirius XM’s “Fantasy Drive”. Doug is also a member of the Fantasy Sports Writers Association.