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
NFL.com Playoff Challenge Roster
QB: Patrick Mahomes
RB: Cam Akers
RB: Jerick McKinnon
WR: Cooper Kupp (x3)
WR: Tyreek Hill
TE: Travis Kelce (x3)
K: Harrison Butker (x3)
Below you will find my position-by-position projections. Please
note I have included DraftKings' dollar value for each player,
followed by his projected point total. 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
DraftKings got the pricing right at this position this week. Mahomes
is the clear top option on the board, although Burrow has already
proven he can go toe-to-toe with the Kansas City quarterback if/when
necessary. No one can question Mahomes being the top-priced quarterback,
even if the only criteria was how he has performed in the playoffs
so far. In both playoff games so far, Mahomes has topped 40 DK points.
He is making an impact as a runner (98 rushing yards and a touchdown)
and just hung 42 points on the league's top-ranked scoring and total
defense. Kansas City has scored at least 31 points in all but one
game since Week 13 (28 against Denver in Week 18), so the odds are
very good he will account for at least three touchdowns in this
game as well.
With the memory of his Week 17 dissection of the Chiefs (and
his amazing two-week finish to the regular season) likely still
fresh in many people's minds, Burrow makes a ton of sense as a
pivot from Mahomes - especially since he comes at an $800 discount.
His supporting cast (at least at the skill positions) is every
bit as good - if not better - than what Mahomes has to work with
each week. However, the offensive line is a problem that will
not be getting any better until the offseason. The Bengals were
lucky to win last weekend with Burrow taking nine sacks - increasing
his season total to 62 - and are likely to find themselves in
more obvious passing downs this week. It does not help matters
that he has thrown for only two touchdowns this postseason either.
Without factoring in his matchup this week, Stafford would appear
to be the best non-Mahomes option at quarterback. He has accounted
for three touchdowns (two passing, one running) in both postseason
contests and priced $1100 cheaper than Kansas City's signal-caller
this week. While past performance does not guarantee future results,
Stafford has averaged about 240 yards passing in the Rams' losses
to the 49ers this season, throwing two interceptions in each game.
San Francisco is among the best in the league at getting pressure
on quarterbacks and often does so while rushing just four. While
Stafford has been among the best in the league this season against
the blitz, he owns a passer rating of 81.6 under pressure. HC
Sean McVay's ability to dial up some screens and other quick-hitters
in Round 3 of this NFC West rivalry figures to play a critical
role in the Rams ending their six-game losing streak to San Francisco.
Another concern is that San Fran has not surrendered more than
two total touchdowns to a quarterback since Carson Wentz did so
in Week 7.
It is almost laughable that Garoppolo is quarterbacking a team
that has made it this far. He has yet to throw for a touchdown
this postseason (versus two interceptions) or top 172 passing
yards. He has failed to throw for more than one score in five
straight. The fact San Francisco is still around is a credit to
how good HC Kyle Shanahan is at his job and how proficient San
Francisco is at wearing down its opponents. Garoppolo has not
accounted for more than two touchdowns in any game since Week
6 of the 2020 season, so he is a longshot to pay off as a contrarian
play this weekend.
Running back is a bit of an oddity this week in that there should
be at least three volume plays, but none of them is overly appealing.
Mixon and his recent usage in the passing game may be the one exception.
My fear with Mixon last week was that the Titans' season-long ability
to limit the effectiveness of running backs in the passing game
- as well as their front seven against the run - was going to limit
his upside. However, he popped loose for a gift score in the red
zone and served as a steady outlet to help Cincinnati overcome the
complete sieve that was its offensive line. The Bengals' best shot
at winning this week is avoiding the kind of shootout they won against
Kansas City in Week 17 and shortening the game as much as possible,
which makes a 20-touch day very likely for Mixon. Including playoffs,
running backs have only accounted for 10 touchdowns in 19 games
versus the Chiefs this season, so a huge game is probably not in
the cards here. However, KC's defense offers slightly less resistance
than the Rams or 49ers in general, so Mixon offers the most upside
at his position this week.
Rams-49ers gives DFS players the other two volume plays of the
week, but each comes with limited scoring upside. Mitchell handled
48 touches (all rush attempts) in the first two meetings against
Los Angeles and did not visit in the end zone either time. His
long run in those two games was 17 yards. Those same two games
against the Rams are also the only times Mitchell has failed to
crack 10 fantasy points in a game since early October. As for
Akers (or LA running backs in general), the Rams did not score
a rushing touchdown in either game against the Niners. Worse yet,
Los Angeles accumulated a mere 116 yards rushing on 37 carries
in the first two meetings. Furthermore, the Rams and 49ers finished
the regular season in the top half of the league in fewest fantasy
points allowed to the position. I suppose fantasy managers could
look at Leonard Fournette's performance last week as a reason
to believe in Mitchell, but there has been no indication San Francisco
would give the rookie a chance to duplicate Lombardi Lenny's nine
catches (for 56 yards) from a week ago.
The Bengals present arguably the path of least resistance for
an opposing rushing attack of the four teams remaining, but Kansas
City is easily the least committed to the run. The Chiefs are
also the one team that is giving significant touches to two backs.
Edwards-Helaire performed well enough last week to regain control
of the early-down work, but McKinnon appears to still be very
much in the mix to share those duties and looks to have a stranglehold
on pass-catching duties with 11 catches for 135 yards and a touchdown
during the playoffs. Given the current setup, CEH should be viewed
as a bit of a desperation play considering any upside he has is
heavily tied to a rushing score. Meanwhile, McKinnon has quickly
emerged as a trusted option for Patrick Mahomes on an offense
that relies so heavily on the passing attack. McKinnon's pass-catching
upside means he should be in about as many lineups as Mitchell
and Akers, but the obvious downside is that he does nothing as
a runner again this week and/or is not needed in the passing game
because Tyreek Hill and/or Travis Kelce are going off.
Paying in upwards of 9-10 K for a receiver each week is a bit of
a drag, but Kupp continues to deliver at a clip at least two times
his cost on DK and sometimes three. San Francisco did not have an
answer for Kupp in either meeting this year, giving up an 11-122-0
line on 13 targets in the Week 10 blowout win and a 7-118-1 line
on seven targets in the season finale. While K'Waun Williams (the
49ers' primary slot corner) has held up reasonably well in the playoffs,
Pro Football Focus gave him his worst coverage of the season in
Week 10 (he did not play in the second meeting). In Williams' coverage,
Kupp caught all seven of his targets. Against all Rams' pass-catchers,
he gave up 11 receptions on 12 targets for 73 yards. While much
of production was in garbage time, the Rams obviously saw Williams
as the weak link of the secondary.
Hill had his first blowup game in over a month against the Bills
last week, doing the bulk of his damage on a 64-yard catch-and-run
late in the third quarter and removing any question there were
about his heel injury. The 27-year-old had been a high-volume
target for most of the first 11 weeks of the season before fading
after the Week 12 bye, which made some question just how healthy
he was. Opponents have focused more on taking Hill away in 2021
than they ever have, turning him into more of a volume play who
needs to break a tackle or two to get the kind of yardage totals
most have come to expect. Cincinnati did in Week 17 what the majority
of Kansas City's opponents over the second half of the season
tried to do: sit back in Cover 2 shell and make the Chiefs string
together long drives by running the ball and throwing short. While
it technically worked (a win is a win, after all), the Bengals
still gave up 31 points. The question with Hill in Kansas City's
slightly more conservative offense is if the speedster will get
the opportunity to build up speed in space and hit a seam like
he did against Buffalo; the volume should be there.
Samuel has mostly been able to battle through multiple injuries
this season, unlike his previous two years in the league where
some issue was either hampering him during a game or causing him
to miss significant time. The South Carolina product has not been
a frequent target in the passing game during the playoffs, drawing
only seven looks through two games. More than half of his 33.3
fantasy points during the postseason have come on the ground,
rushing 10 times in each game for a total of 111 yards and a touchdown.
The reason he could be the overall WR1 this week has to do with
massive efficiency and fantasy point totals in San Fran's two
games versus the Rams' zone-heavy defense: nine catches for 192
yards, 13 carries for 81 yards and three total touchdowns.
As long as DFS players pay down at running back and quarterback,
they should be able to fit at least two of the three receivers
above into their lineups (Kupp and Samuel would be my preferences).
After that, it gets a bit dicey. Higgins proved he was past his
foot injury in the win over the Titans, leading the Bengals in
targets (nine) while catching seven balls for 96 yards. Kansas
City had struggled against opponents' top wideouts in recent weeks
until shutting down Stefon Diggs last week. Of course, that opened
the door for Gabriel Davis to have the game of his life. Chase
enjoyed similar success in the meeting four weeks ago, laying
an 11-266-3 line on the Chiefs.
What seems almost certain is that one of the three (or maybe
even two) Cincy receivers will have a banner day this weekend,
so it is advisable to get at least one into most DFS lineups this
week. Mike Hughes was the corner that got beat on two of Davis'
four scores in the divisional round. Projecting where receivers
will line up in a given game is sometimes a fool's errand, but
it is at least notable that Charvarius Ward saw the most of Diggs
last week. With L'Jarius Sneed handling most of the slot duties
(meaning he should see a lot of Boyd), we can assume the Bengals
will try to attack Hughes early and often. If that is the case,
it might be Higgins' turn to scorch KC.
Boyd's matchup against Sneed will not be an easy one and may
be the third-most attractive one to Joe Burrow on most passing
plays. Aiyuk has become the default No. 1 receiver in San Francisco
with Samuel playing the position part-time nowadays, which only
means he could see plenty of Jalen Ramsey. Pringle is on a bit
of a roll with double-digit fantasy points in four of his last
five, but he is not running deep routes or doing much after the
catch. That is not a great combination and will lead to a clunker
in the near future once his touchdown luck dries up despite relatively
steady volume. Two of OBJ's worst games since joining the Rams
have come against the 49ers. He has a big enough part of the offense
to believe he can change that this week, but a blowup game is
not likely in the cards. Given how often Jefferson is running
deep routes, he is also a poor bet against a San Francisco defense
that does such a good job of generating pressure with four rushers
and keeping seven men back. I find it difficult to get excited
about any of the options below Jefferson.
It seems ridiculous to nitpick Kelce's performance from last week
(eight catches for 96 yards and a touchdown), but 43 yards and the
score came on the 13-second scoring drive that sent the game into
overtime and the game-ending TD in the extra period. Until that
point, Kelce was not providing anything close to the return most
DFS players were hoping for. Fortunately for Kelce, the Bengals
were among the most forgiving defenses against tight ends during
the regular season despite mostly keeping the Chiefs' stud in check
the first time around (5-25-1). It seems unlikely that a defense
that gave up 37.1 DK points to Kittle in Week 14 and 29.5 to Mark Andrews two weeks later can hold Kelce below 20 twice in four weeks.
With San Francisco focusing so much on the running game and squeezing
as much out of Deebo Samuel's skill set as possible, Kittle may
not even be as good of an option as the next two highest-priced
tight ends (Higbee and Uzomah). Kittle's 10.3-point effort last
week was his first double-digit performance since Week 15. The
49ers were one of the stingiest defenses against tight ends during
the regular season, but three of the six TDs San Francisco allowed
to the position this season were scored by Higbee. That does not
happen by accident. Considering the Rams' other weapons (namely
their receivers), the 49ers will not adjust their defensive game
plan significantly to make Higbee a non-factor.
After flashing some fantasy upside earlier in the season, Uzomah
appears to have become the postseason version of Dalton Schultz
(a relatively nondescript tight end who is somehow drawing a lot
of targets on an offense with at least three very good receivers).
Much like Schultz, Uzomah will never be the primary or even secondary
concern for defenses because Cincinnati has too many other weapons.
I won't feel great about it despite his play this postseason,
but I suspect he will probably end up in at least 30 percent of
my lineups this week.
Key for defense/special teams units: PA - Points allowed TO - Total turnovers TD - Defensive/return touchdowns PA Bonus - Points allowed bonus for DraftKings
Defense / Special
Considering Matthew Stafford's previous two games against the 49ers,
San Francisco probably has the most upside of the DST options this
week. With so little separating teams at this stage, I will likely
roll with the Niners more than any other option this week because
they are the cheapest of the three I can rationalize using. The
Chiefs could present the safest floor because Cincinnati tends to
give up a few sacks every game. The Rams can make an argument they
have the most upside because they are facing the worst quarterback
of the bunch. Barring a complete meltdown from Patrick Mahomes or
a kick/punt return touchdown, I do not see how the Bengals DST will
be worth using this week.
Doug Orth has written for FF Today since 2006 and been featured in USA TODAY's Fantasy Football Preview magazine since 2010. He is also a high-stakes player who often appears as a guest analyst on a number of national sports radio shows, such as Sirius XM's "Fantasy Drive." Doug is also a member of the Fantasy Sports Writers Association.