As discussed in this space last
week, the remainder of my postseason columns will feature my
NFL.com Playoff Challenge roster (for as long as applicable), followed
by my weekly league predictions and DFS prognostications. The further
we advance in the postseason, the deeper the analysis into the matchups.
NFL.com Playoff Challenge
NFL.com Playoff Challenge Roster
QB: Case Keenum (x2)
RB: Latavius Murray (x2)
RB: Dion Lewis (x2)
WR: Adam Thielen (x2)
WR: Stefon Diggs (x2)
TE: Rob Gronkowski (x2)
K: Stephen Gostkowski (x2)
D/ST: Vikings (x2)
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 again this postseason.
Below you will find my position-by-position projections. Please
note I have included DraftKings' dollar value for each player,
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 a great deal of time 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
Congratulations if you accurately predicted the Panthers would favor
stopping the run over letting Brees rip them apart via the pass.
Congratulations if you had the foresight to see Greg Olsen come
alive or Christian McCaffrey break loose for a 56-yard touchdown
catch late in the game, essentially saving Cam Newton's otherwise
average day. Congratulations if you predicted Mariota would throw
a touchdown to himself. Congratulations if you had Bortles running
for 88 yards. My point is simply this: while fantasy numbers for
quarterbacks were slightly higher than predicted here last week,
understand how many out-of-the-ordinary occurrences had to happen
in order for many of them to achieve it.
In all likelihood, quarterback play is unlikely to determine
the amount of success your fantasy playoff teams have this postseason.
The players most likely to throw for three or more touchdowns
this week either do not have the matchups working in their favor
(Brees and Roethlisberger), an offense that is willing to sacrifice
in the name of offensive balance (Keenum) or seemingly lacks the
health to take advantage of a defense ripe for the picking (Brady).
Minnesota has allowed one passing touchdown since Week 12 and
has the personnel necessary to slow Michael Thomas down without
committing additional resources while also keeping the Saints'
running game somewhat in check. Jacksonville has been a bit more
forgiving in the passing game than it was earlier in the season,
but Russell Wilson's garbage time-influenced effort against this
defense in Week 14 was the only time a quarterback threw for three
touchdowns versus the Jaguars all season. As good as Keenum has
been this season, he only accounted for at least three scores
twice since becoming the regular starter in Week 6. Brady hasn't
passed for three or more scores in five straight games …
or roughly the same time he started appearing on the injury report
with an Achilles' injury.
Despite the gloom-and-doom of the position, the aforementioned
players are going to be your best bets for fantasy success this
week. Ryan hasn't passed for more than one score in seven straight
games and does not have a single game of three or more TDs to
his name this year. Foles probably isn't as bad as he has appeared
the last two games, but the Falcons just got done bottling up
the Rams and have yielded only one three-score performance to
a quarterback all season. Mariota also doesn't have a three-score
game on his resume and still has more interceptions than passing
touchdowns. Bortles' awful effort last week was wind-aided, but
good quarterbacks typically are able to work around the elements
- he did not. While I consider myself to be an analyst who does
a good job of accounting for recent performance and overall skill
in his projections and not get wrapped up in what a player did
just in his most recent game, it would take some serious cojones
to ride Bortles this week just because, in theory, he may have
the easiest matchup of all the quarterbacks.
Le'Veon Bell's involvement in the passing
game will be a differentiating factor over other running backs
on this slate.
The matchup outlook at running back is only marginally better than
it is at quarterback. Atlanta has done a wonderful job of stifling
rushing attacks for the bulk of the season, as Todd Gurley last
week became the first player since Ajayi in Week 6 to top 100 total
yards versus the Falcons. While the Eagles have been gouged by running
backs in terms of rushing yards in their last two games, both players
needed at least 25 carries in order to threaten or creep over the
100-yard mark. It is unlikely Freeman or Coleman will see enough
attempts to do likewise.
I'm not sure how we are supposed to analyze the Saints' success
last week. It wasn't a total surprise to see Brees do well, but
for him to throw for nearly 400 yards with Kamara and Ingram combining
for 23 yards on two catches seems like a problem to me. Unlike
Carolina, Minnesota has the talent to play New Orleans straight
up in the passing game and doesn't have to be overly concerned
about springing leaks in the running game. Barring multiple breakdowns/injuries
by/to the Vikings, it is going to take a spectacular effort by
a role player from the Saints or some major help from the defense/special
teams in order for New Orleans to pull off the upset. Mind you,
I believe the Saints are the one remaining NFC team best equipped
to do it, but things are going to need to fall into place. My
projections for Ingram and Kamara represent a best-case scenario
for each player and the likelihood much of their production comes
during negative game script late in the contest.
Murray is the one player of the bunch I don't want to like, but
I do because Minnesota creates a positive game script for him
so consistently. Because the Vikings like playing to their defense,
minimizing possessions and ball control are key components to
their success. Murray helps them accomplish this. However, despite
Minnesota's improved offensive line, Murray still isn't averaging
four yards per carry and has struggled to reach that mark late
in the year. With the former Raider, you are hoping for at least
one touchdown if you roll the dice on him, because he is among
the worst bets at the position this week to help your team on
The Pats have also been susceptible from time to time against
opposing rushers, but the expected return of run-plugging DT Alan Branch and the likelihood Tennessee will be playing from behind
in the second half makes it unlikely Tennessee is going to be
able to commit to 25 touches for Henry. Lewis could be a really
savvy play, even in what is technically a difficult matchup against
the Titans. He has amassed 61 touches over the last two games
and will be slated for another heavy workload so long as Burkhead
plays a minor role or is held out and New England continues to
limit Brady's exposure to punishment.
It is becoming clearer by the week the combination of Fournette's
midseason ankle injury and the lack of road graders on the Jaguars'
offensive line have conspired to make the No. 4 overall pick look
like a mere mortal. Not only can we tell this is the case by the
complete lack of big plays the rookie has turned in over the last
two months, but a matchup like the Bills last week - regardless
of how much they focused on shutting down the run - would have
resulted in about 120 yards and a score in September or early
October. With Fournette seemingly incapable of busting a long
run, the Jags may be in a repeat of the Wild-Card Round offensively.
As an aside, Jacksonville is doing him no favors by using him
so much out of the shotgun. If there was one
major criticism I had of Fournette during the pre-draft process
this spring, it was that he needs a runway to get going. In other
words, utilizing him on the same "gun-runs" Kareem Hunt
are featured on robs Fournette of the ability to get north-south
quickly and square his shoulders. Bell's 2017 workload will make
him a player I'm going to avoid high in drafts in 2018, but I
trust his ability to play the rest of this postseason without
much worry, as he will have enjoyed nearly three full weeks without
contact by the time Pittsburgh takes the field this weekend.
It took much longer for him to reach where fantasy owners wanted
Jones to go this year, but the Falcons seem to be getting him involved
on a regular basis now. Jones has attracted at least 10 targets
in three straight games, four of his last five and six of his last
eight. Of course, the touchdown production is what has been lacking.
While Jones is seeing a lot of snaps all across the formation, his
main matchup this week should be against Ronald Darby, who has been
targeted on 29 percent of the time in which a pass route is run
in his coverage - easily the highest mark of the weekend. Jones
could easily repeat or exceed last week's production if OC Steve
Sarkisian continues to make feeding him a priority. Sanu figures
to line up across from slot CB Patrick Robinson the most often in
the Divisional Round. While he's always a decent bet to score a
touchdown a time defenses overcommit to Jones in the red zone, Sanu
figures to have the most difficult matchup of the weekend among
Since catching a short touchdown pass early in Week 15, Jeffrey
has shown very little chemistry with Foles … or Smith for
that matter. That fact alone makes using either one even as a
contrarian play awfully risky and leaves Agholor as the only realistic
option, although slot CB Brian Poole has played well for most
of the season. Two of the league's best cornerbacks - both of
whom rarely move inside - will be plying their trade this weekend
in Minnesota, which is marginally bad news for Diggs (Marshon Lattimore) and Thomas (Xavier Rhodes). Both receivers spend over
20 percent of their snaps in the slot, however, so avoiding them
completely in fantasy probably isn't a good idea, but owners should
limit their exposure regardless. With that said, the news is worse
for Thomas simply because the Vikings don't technically have a
"weak" cornerback in their base or nickel defense. As
such, Thielen is the premier play at receiver in this contest,
as he runs over half of his routes inside and should see P.J. Williams most of the day. While Williams isn't hardly a pushover,
he is much more likely to get beat than Lattimore or Ken Crawley.
Both New England cornerbacks have played well this season - especially
recently - and Tennessee's passing game has been inconsistent
at best, so the best thing to do with Titans' wideouts this week
is either go cheap or avoid entirely. It's the main reason I graced
Taylor with a touchdown, because it will probably take a big play
from a part-time deep threat against a backup cornerback for a
Tennessee receiver to have a productive day. Similar things can
be said about the Jaguars' passing game. Late last week, it was
reported Cole would slide down to No. 4 on the depth chart if
Lee was active. Despite emerging as the Jags' top receiver late
in the season, that is exactly what happened. Granted, Bortles'
play made the point moot, but even with the likely absence of
Steelers CB Artie Burns this weekend, I cannot imagine placing
any faith in the Jacksonville passing game with a struggling quarterback
and a coaching staff willing to limit the snaps of its most viable
Cooks has been a hit-or-miss proposition for the bulk of the
season, so while his primary matchup this weekend (rookie CB Adoree' Jackson) isn't one to avoid, there are enough other high-end receivers
to use this weekend. Hogan's availability remains shrouded in
mystery (Kenny Britt anyone?), while there seems to be little
rhyme or reason as to when Amendola is going to have a six-catch
game. Never mind the fact former Patriot Logan Ryan will be the
man Amendola sees the most of this weekend. The only reason to
avoid Brown versus the Jags is if we receive some indication his
calf is not fully healed and/or he is at risk for an in-game setback.
Smith-Schuster won't find a soft landing whether he lines up across
from slot CB Aaron Colvin or (most likely) A.J. Bouye when he
lines up outside. Even against Jacksonville's defense, he is worth
using as a contrarian play, although I'm not sure the upside is
all that high. Bryant hit his PPR ceiling this year in Week 2
with 18.8 fantasy points. He's only finished in double figures
three times since, so feel free to move along.
While there are enough serviceable quarterbacks and plenty of solid
plays at running back and receiver, the discussion at tight end
begins and ends with Gronkowski, Ertz, Walker and maybe Rudolph
(if he is completely healthy). In a pick-your-studs format like
Fuzzy's, I cannot imagine using anyone else besides Gronk. Over
his last four games, he has either amassed at least 67 yards receiving
and a touchdown or finished with at least nine catches for 147 yards.
The closest thing Tennessee has seen to Gronkowski all season as
Jack Doyle, who produced at least 16 PPR points in both meetings.
The fact Gronk comes attached to the best quarterback of the four
is just icing on the cake.
In DFS formats, a pivot to Ertz or
Walker is completely understandable given their price points.
As far as Ertz is concerned, his targets have remained solid throughout
the transition from Carson Wentz to Foles at quarterback. Ertz's
upside is not overly high, but he still possesses a high floor.
The Patriots showed some early-season vulnerability against the
position before quieting things down after their Week 9 bye, but
Walker is going to give Tennessee its best (and possibly only
realistic) option to move the ball consistently in the passing
game. Rudolph is practicing in full this week and probably boasts
a comparable upside to Ertz and Walker this week given he is the
best bet of the three to score. However, despite the positive
practice reports, he feels a bit too risky, especially considering
he is averaging 9.3 yards per catch this season and hasn't had
a game of at least five receptions since Week 11.
Key for kickers and defense/special teams
units: XP - Extra point FG - Field goal PA - Points allowed TD - Defensive/return touchdowns TO - Total turnovers Bonus - Points allowed bonus
As is usually the case when offenses aren't expected to rule the
day, I have projected more defensive scoring this week than usual.
I understand the odds of four teams scoring at least 10 fantasy
points are very low, but the combination of two poor offenses on
the road combined with one very opportunistic defense (Jaguars)
and one team with a very good return game (Vikings) means it is
possible. As you can tell, the Steelers should be considered the
top defensive play of the week if you are like me (in most cases)
and want to bet on sacks and turnovers only and consider any return
touchdown scored a bonus. While owners may want to disregard Pittsburgh
and Minnesota scoring a defensive and special teams touchdown, respectively,
they need to understand there aren't many weeks that go by during
the NFL season in which return scores do not happen, even with a
compressed slate of games. All things considered, about the only
D/ST units I would swear off this week are the Titans and Saints.
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.