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Playoff Fantasy Football: Conference Championships

By Doug Orth | 1/25/24 |

My final two postseason columns will feature my weekly DFS prognostications.


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. I will not 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

Lamar Jackson

Player Tm DK$ P Yds P TDs INT RuAtt RuYds Ru TDs DK
Lamar Jackson BAL $7,700 191 0 1 12 68 2 25.4
Brock Purdy SF $6,400 283 2 0 3 5 0 19.8
Patrick Mahomes KC $6,900 226 1 0 7 36 0 16.6
Jared Goff DET $6,300 247 1 2 2 4 0 12.3

Lamar Jackson - Jackson is the one true dual-threat quarterback remaining in the playoffs. That alone makes him the overwhelming favorite to be the top-scoring option at his position this weekend. However, the following key factors could lead to a disappointing fantasy effort from him:

1) The strength of Kansas City's defense is defending the pass. While Jackson typically does not post high-end passing numbers, it seems highly unlikely he will do so here. In the last five games that mattered to the Chiefs (i.e. excluding Week 18), Kansas City did not allow more than 188 yards through the air.

2) Mark Andrews has been sidelined for close to three months. While there is nothing wrong with expecting Jackson's favorite target to contribute in this contest, it might be a bit much to ask him to hit the ground running against a defense that is strong at linebacker and safety.

3) Chiefs DC Steve Spagnuolo has earned a reputation for solving some of the top offenses on the biggest stages. In his first year as a defensive coordinator in 2007, his charges held the Tom Brady-led 18-0 Patriots with Randy Moss and Wes Welker to 14 points in a Super Bowl victory. He called another great game in a Super Bowl victory 12 years later for the Chiefs against the high-scoring 49ers. He has done likewise in recent years to beat the Bills and Bengals in the AFC Championship. This year's defense may not be quite on par with the Giants' defense from 16 years ago, but it is the best one he has had since he joined the Chiefs in 2019.

Perhaps the biggest feather in Jackson's hat is that OC Todd Monken does not have the same one-track mind former OC Greg Roman did when he was calling plays for Baltimore. Jackson also has the best and deepest group of receivers he has had during his time as a Raven. Whether or not they perform well statistically in this one is not nearly as important as their ability to draw attention away from the running game. Also consider this nugget:

The Ravens' best bet at a big play could be Jackson breaking contain against man coverage (something the Chiefs use more than most teams). With Kansas City's linebackers and safeties having their back turned to him while playing man on pass plays, Jackson could have a bigger day running up the middle than he did against Houston.

Brock Purdy - Allow me to lead off with a stat that will probably blow your mind. In 17 career games against NFC opponents, Purdy is 16-1. In those games, he has a passer rating of 126.6 (which is largely fueled by a 72.4 completion percentage and a 33:5 touchdown-to-interception ratio). In eight games against the AFC, he is 4-4 with a 62.4 completion percentage and 11:10 TD-to-INT ratio.

Purdy is starting to earn a reputation as a player who may struggle to deal with the elements. Whether that is a fair statement to make or not is up for debate, but it appears he will not have to deal with the rain this week like he did last week. He also draws arguably the softest pass defense remaining in the field. In their first two playoff games, the Lions surrendered 367 yards and two scores to Matthew Stafford AND 349 and three to Baker Mayfield. Those numbers are somewhat indicative of what has been a season-long issue for Detroit, which allowed the third-most fantasy points to quarterbacks during the regular season.

Further strengthening the case to roll with Purdy this week is the advantage each of his top playmakers figures to have. Christian McCaffrey is a tough cover for any defender, but it would seem Detroit is less equipped to deal with him as a receiver than most defenses. We will get into the Lions' struggles against receivers in a few minutes, but suffice it to say for now that perimeter wideouts (i.e. Brandon Aiyuk this week) have feasted on DC Aaron Glenn's unit. Detroit also showed some vulnerability against tight ends versus the Bucs. With the Lions' focus almost certainly being on McCaffrey this weekend, George Kittle could have a huge game if HC Kyle Shanahan chooses to make him enough of a priority.

Patrick Mahomes - This is not your father's Kansas City offense. It might not even be your big brother's Kansas City offense. Since throwing for a season-high 424 yards and four touchdowns in Week 7, Mahomes is averaging 240 yards through the air and has not recorded more than two scores in any game. The Chiefs also play at the 12th-slowest pace in the league and rely more heavily on the ground game than at any point during HC Andy Reid's tenure.

Making matters worse for Mahomes is that the Ravens were one of three teams (along with Cleveland and Kansas City) to allow less than five net yards per pass attempt during the season. What makes Baltimore's league-best 4.7 net yards per pass attempt even more impressive is that opponents attempted 634 throws (535 for Cleveland and 556 for Kansas City). The Ravens have managed to do this despite being without their top cover corner (Marlon Humphrey) for eight games. Perhaps a more loaded Kansas City offense with some recent history of operating at peak efficiency would breed more confidence in trusting Mahomes for fantasy purposes this week, but there is a much better chance Baltimore-Kansas City turns into a slugfest than a shootout.

Jared Goff - The Lions like to operate over the middle of the field as much as any offense. San Francisco may be as good over the middle of the field as any defense in the league. If that does not dissuade you, consider Goff's recent history in outdoor games and on the road.

2023 road games (nine): 64.8 completion percentage, 259.4 passing yards, 11 touchdowns and six interceptions

2023 home games (10): 71.0 completion percentage, 280 passing yards, 22 touchdowns and six interceptions

2023 outdoor games (five): 63.6 completion percentage, 252.2 passing yards, five touchdowns and four interceptions

2023 dome games (14): 69.8 completion percentage, 277 passing yards, 28 touchdowns and eight interceptions

It would be one thing if this was just a one-year downward trend, but Goff has earned a reputation for being a very good quarterback when the conditions are ideal but also one that can fall apart when they are not. Speaking of which …

Goff's production from a clean pocket versus a muddy pocket is also drastic this season.

Clean pocket: 75.6 completion percentage, 27:3 TD/INT ratio
Under pressure: 51.4 completion percentage, 6:9 TD/INT ratio

Making matters worse and adding more legitimacy to those fears, LG Jonah Jackson (knee) will miss the game. C Frank Ragnow (knee) pushed through his injury last week. His health (and ability to perform to his usual standard) will be a big question mark as well. Meanwhile, San Francisco's front four is about as talented rushing the passer as any group in the league. Needless to say, Lions OC Ben Johnson will have his work cut out for him to create a game plan that limits Goff's throws to the perimeter (another weakness of his) but also accounts for the injuries up front.

 Running Backs
Player Tm DK $ Ru Att Ru Yds Ru TDs Tgt Rec Rec Yds Rec TDs DK
Christian McCaffrey SF $9,000 15 73 1 8 6 58 0 25.1
Isiah Pacheco KC $6,500 20 103 1 3 3 23 0 24.6
Gus Edwards BAL $5,500 12 51 1 1 1 5 0 12.6
Jahmyr Gibbs DET $6,400 7 32 0 6 5 42 0 12.4
Justice Hill BAL $4,800 9 45 0 4 3 23 0 9.8
David Montgomery DET $5,600 11 36 0 3 2 13 0 6.9
Dalvin Cook BAL $4,200 3 14 0 1 1 10 0 3.4
Clyde Edwards-Helaire KC $4,500 3 13 0 1 1 3 0 2.6
Elijah Mitchell SF $4,600 2 6 0 0 0 0 0 0.6

Christian McCaffrey - Not much that needs to be said about McCaffrey. Perhaps he could run with a little more power from time to time, but it is difficult to say he has a discernible weakness in his game. The only time he has failed to top 100 total yards in a game since Week 7 was the Week 17 contest against the Commanders when he left early due to a calf injury. That game was also one of only two times he did not score a touchdown this season. Detroit counters with the second-best rush defense in the league and stingiest defense against fantasy running backs. With that said, CMC's ability as a receiver may be second to none among running backs. On the off chance the running game cannot get it going this weekend, there is a high probability McCaffrey could see 10 (or more) targets. Even against a Detroit linebacker corps that is highly athletic, it might be too much to ask for any of them (specifically Jack Campbell and Derrick Barnes) to contain him out of the backfield and especially if he moves into the slot.

Isiah Pacheco - It seems almost ridiculous to type when talking about an offense that is led by Patrick Mahomes, but Kansas City's hopes to beat Baltimore this week rest largely on Pacheco and the running game. While he is not close to being the same all-purpose scoring machine that McCaffrey is, Pacheco has at least 20 touches in five of his last seven outings. He has also scored in six straight. The Ravens may not have many weaknesses defensively, but their focus on opposing passing games (and reliance on simulated pressure) is a key reason why they gave up 4.5 yards per carry during the season.

The Chiefs also have their reasons for relying on Pacheco this week as well. Kansas City's offensive tackles have been a question mark for much of the season, which becomes a problem against a Baltimore defense that is getting a career year from Jadeveon Clowney and solid contributions from fellow DE Kyle Van Noy. OG Joe Thuney (strained pectoral) appears to be a question mark for this game. His absence will be a big problem against DT Justin Madubuike, who is also enjoying a breakout season. If for no other reason than to protect Mahomes and limit the amount of pressure he could potentially face, it is very much in Kansas City's best interest to rely heavily on Pacheco.

Jahmyr Gibbs/David Montgomery - Detroit HC Dan Campbell and OC Ben Johnson do not usually need an excuse to run the ball. I expect them to stick with that as long as possible for at least three reasons:

1) The aforementioned splits with Goff;

2) San Francisco has given up at least 100 yards rushing in four of its last five. That is something that happened only three times in its first 13 contests. Some of that is a product of DT Arik Armstead missing Weeks 14-18, but it was still a vulnerability that Green Bay exposed last week in his return;

3) The two linemen I mentioned above with Goff - Jonah Jackson and Frank Ragnow - either will not play this week (Jackson) or be limited (Ragnow).

The 49ers' defensive line was built with rushing the quarterback in mind, so it stands to reason why Detroit establishing the run against San Francisco would be a prudent move. The problem for Montgomery is that having two-thirds of his interior line ailing does not bode well for his success in this game. The Packers (Aaron Jones) had a great deal of success running on the perimeter last week, so I would expect the Lions to try to copy that with the back they have that is most like Jones (Gibbs). More specifically, I would expect them to run to the right side. RT Penei Sewell has emerged as one of the best in the league at his position. He is more than capable of moving Nick Bosa or Chase Young off their spot.

While it is a bit simplistic to think of Montgomery purely as an inside runner and Gibbs as an outside runner, it may help to think of them that way this week. Gibbs is easily the preferred option in the passing game. He is perhaps the only potential mismatch Detroit has in this contest, so expect the Lions to use him early and often. Given what the Lions are dealing with up front and across the line of scrimmage this week, they need to find a way to create big plays. Gibbs can do that more than Montgomery can.

Gus Edwards/Justice Hill/Dalvin Cook - This is a week where the Ravens could miss Keaton Mitchell. As it stands, Baltimore has seemingly settled on spreading the wealth somewhat evenly between Edwards and Hill the rest of the way. It remains to be seen if Cook can earn anything more than garbage-time reps during this postseason, but I think that is what OC Todd Monken would prefer. Why does any of this matter?

1) The Ravens have no issue running the ball (they led the league with 541 rush attempts during the regular season);

2) The running game keeps their dominant defense fresh;

3) A successful running game this week keeps Patrick Mahomes off the field;

4) The weakness of Kansas City's defense is defending the run.

Chiefs DC Steve Spagnuolo has been around the block a few times, so the odds he is going to let Lamar Jackson beat his defense as a runner are slim. The problem with selling out on that option is that it is nearly impossible for a defense to eliminate both run options on zone reads and still have enough resources to take all of the threats in the passing game if Baltimore utilizes play-action. In short, something usually has to give. Spagnuolo will probably opt to get beat by Edwards and/or Hill more often than not.

Edwards is a reasonable bet to score in this one, which should make him a decent DFS option for players unwilling to step up into the $6,000 range at their RB2 slot. The same can be said for Hill, whose 10 or so touches in this game will probably include a handful of catches. He is more of a DFS punt than Edwards unless you are of the mind that the Chiefs will control most of this game. In that case, Hill would be a fine play in DFS because he would handle most of the negative game script work.

 Wide Receivers
Player Tm DK$ Ru Att Ru Yds Ru TDs Tgt Rec Rec Yds Rec TDs DK
Brandon Aiyuk SF $6,900 11 7 126 1 28.6
Amon-Ra St. Brown DET $7,900 11 7 85 1 21.5
Rashee Rice KC $3,200 7 5 65 0 11.5
Jauan Jennings SF $4,600 5 3 31 0 6.1
Jameson Williams DET $3,700 5 2 37 0 5.7
Zay Flowers BAL $4,400 6 3 25 0 5.5
Rashod Bateman BAL $5,800 4 2 31 0 5.1
Josh Reynolds DET $4,000 5 2 29 0 4.9
Justin Watson KC $3,300 3 2 21 0 4.1
Marquez Valdes-Scantling KC $6,500 3 1 20 0 3.0
Odell Beckham Jr. BAL $3,600 3 1 13 0 2.3
Nelson Agholor BAL $3,800 2 1 12 0 2.2
Richie James KC $3,000 2 1 9 0 1.9
Kadarius Toney KC $3,400 1 2 0 3 1 6 0 1.8

***** I am assuming Deebo Samuel (shoulder) will not play this week.

Brandon Aiyuk - Whereas I was convinced last week that Samuel needed to play a pivotal role against the Packers (and he was before getting hurt early), this week sets up as a big game for Aiyuk. Detroit plays man coverage roughly a third of the time and can probably afford to do so schematically since Brock Purdy is not much of a run threat. Fortunately for Aiyuk, he is easily the preferred receiver on this offense when it comes to facing man coverage.

Not only is he the preferred target when it comes to man coverage, but he also profiles similarly to Justin Jefferson and CeeDee Lamb (more on that in a bit). He just plays on an offense that relies less heavily on the passing game. Over the last five contests, the Lions have surrendered individual receiving yardage totals of 141, 227, 192, 181 and 147. (Jefferson and Lamb were responsible for three of those efforts. Puka Nacua and Mike Evans were the others.)

The similarity among those four receivers is that they are their team's clear top perimeter receivers. Aiyuk is that for the Niners. Aiyuk is at least in Evans' class and probably closer to Jefferson and Lamb than most want to admit. Detroit CB Cameron Sutton went head-to-head with Evans for most of last week's game and won his share of the battles, but Evans got going after a slow start (147 yards and a touchdown on eight catches). With San Francisco presenting more of a run threat than the Bucs did, it will be harder for the Lions to give Sutton help. The likelihood that Samuel does not play this weekend only increases the possibility that Aiyuk has a huge game.

Amon-Ra St. Brown - We should be well past the point where anyone is questioning if St. Brown is a top-10 - if not top-five - receiver in the league. He has proven he can get open against anyone. That in and of itself makes him important in this game, if only because San Francisco's defense usually forces quarterbacks to get the ball out of their hands quickly. "Free yards" are typically at a premium.

Regarding that last point, St. Brown is riding a six-game streak of six catches or more. Only three times this season has he failed to catch at least that many passes. St. Brown (668 yards) trailed only Lamb (680) in yards after the catch during the regular season. However, much of his best work comes over the middle of the field. As we discussed earlier, that is where the strength of the 49ers defense lies. That does not mean St. Brown will fail have make an impact in this game, it just means he will have to do it a different way. Another point we already discussed is that the Lions usually do their best to avoid Jared Goff throwing to the perimeter too much. The degree to which Goff has success on those kinds of throws this week figures to have a large impact on whether St. Brown has a modest fantasy day or a huge one.

Rashee Rice - Rice (hamstring) was unquestionably playing hurt last week. Even though he began this week with a full practice, his ability to make it through this game is not a given. If healthy, he faces one of his toughest matchups of the season if Ravens CB Marlon Humphrey (calf) can return for this game. As stated earlier, Baltimore does not necessarily need Humphrey on the field to be a great pass defense, but the defense is undeniably better when he is playing. Humphrey may not act as a true shadow in this game either, but Baltimore also does not need him to do that. Ronald Darby and Brandon Stephens have held up well on the outside in Humphrey's absence and Arthur Maulet has done well in the slot recently.

Rice's health is the X-factor here and maybe on the entire DFS slate. If I knew for sure he was the same player now that he was in November and most of December, I would feel more confident about him and the Chiefs' chances in general. I have little doubt a fully healthy Rice can get his numbers against Darby, Stephens and/or Maulet. Perhaps all that matters here is that Mahomes trusts him, but I am not sure Rice has earned THAT level of respect quite yet. Baltimore is unlikely to give up much on deep throws, so he will need to do major work after the catch. He is very good after the catch, but (again) the hamstring has to be factored into the risk/reward of playing him in fantasy this week.

Zay Flowers - Perhaps the most important factor in the Chiefs' stout pass defense is the play of Kansas City CB L'Jarius Sneed, who has been shadowing the opposition's top receivers for much of the year. Khalil Shakir's touchdown last week was the first one Sneed gave up this season. Sneed did allow 90 receiving yards to Las Vegas (mostly to Davante Adams) earlier this year, but he surrendered 56 or fewer in every other game. The reason this is important is that Sneed will almost certainly travel with Flowers most of the day this weekend. That alone makes it hard to believe Flowers will find a way to be worth his relatively low price point of $4,400 in DFS.

A few thoughts about the ancillary receivers:

Odell Beckham Jr./Rashod Bateman/Nelson Agholor - Beckham is probably due for a big game at some point this postseason, but he has been in witness protection for the better part of a month. Bateman has done a bit more than OBJ over that same stretch, but it is hard to get behind a receiver that has topped 40 yards receiving once this season - especially in what is a low-volume passing offense. Agholor is very much a touchdown-or-bust option. The odds he scores in two straight are relatively low.

Kadarius Toney/Marquez Valdes-Scantling/Justin Watson/Richie James/Mecole Hardman - Toney started the practice week with a full session, offering some hope he will suit up for the first time since Week 15. He is still the Chiefs' best hope at receiver - outside of Rice - to make a dent in Baltimore's defense. What he does with his next chance is anyone's guess. The Ravens do not give up much deep, so MVS projects to be a poor dart throw this week.

Jauan Jennings/Chris Conley - There is not much to see here, even if Samuel misses the game as I expect he will. Jennings is a good blocker and slot receiver, but his services as a pass-catcher are not usually needed on San Francisco's loaded offense. Conley is a field-stretcher who could get lucky in this game against a defense that can get beat deep, but he is a player I may put in only one or two of my DFS lineups at most.

Josh Reynolds/Jameson Williams - Of the receiver punts this week, Reynolds and/or Williams are probably the most likely to hit. Reynolds has started to assert himself (again) over the last few games. With that said, Detroit may require Williams' explosiveness this week more than Reynolds' craftiness. The Lions will need to create big plays in the passing game; Reynolds and Williams are the two receivers most likely to be on the receiving end of them. I am not nearly as confident in Reynolds this week as I was last week, however. For what it is worth, I would probably put either Reynolds or Williams in 10 to 15 of my DFS lineups if I were to set 50 this week.

 Tight Ends
Player Tm DK$ Tgt Rec Rec Yds Rec TDs DK
Travis Kelce KC $6,600 8 6 62 1 18.2
George Kittle SF $5,300 7 5 63 1 17.3
Mark Andrews BAL $5,000 7 5 61 0 11.1
Sam LaPorta DET $5,400 8 5 41 0 9.1
Noah Gray KC $2,500 2 2 17 0 3.7
Isaiah Likely BAL $4,300 2 1 11 0 2.1
Zach Ertz DET $2,800 1 1 10 0 2.0

Travis Kelce - In theory, Baltimore should be able to minimize the impact Kelce could have with three of its best defenders patrolling the middle of the field (Patrick Queen, Roquan Smith and Kyle Hamilton). In reality, the Ravens play enough zone (roughly 75 percent) that Kelce should be effective. After all, he relies more on craftiness than athleticism at this stage of his career. Defensive coordinators (those who rely primarily on zone coverage) tend to rely on their defense rallying to the ball to limit the damage a tight end could make as opposed to taking a man out of the zone - usually a safety - and forcing the defense to play with one less player in coverage. While there could be a few plays in which Queen, Smith or Hamilton will man up on Kelce, it is unlikely to be a common occurrence.

One other consideration regarding the potential demise of Kelce this season is the possibility he was playing through an unreported injury over the second half of the year. Baltimore has not surrendered much production to the tight end position throughout the season, but a few of the better tight ends have posted strong efforts thanks to heavy volume. Considering how likely it is that Kansas City's receivers struggle in this contest, Kelce may be more of a lock for 10-plus targets than what we became accustomed to during the year.

George Kittle - On a different team, Kittle could be in the running for overall TE1 in just about every season he stays healthy. In San Francisco, however, his ability to dominate as a run-blocker is often highlighted more than his run-after-catch ability. In short, Kittle is more of a break-in-case-of-emergency kind of option in HC Kyle Shanahan's offense. If Samuel and Aiyuk are winning their matchups consistently, then Kittle is minimized. If McCaffrey is running hot, then Kittle will be little more than a sixth lineman. In negative game scripts or games in which it is clear Kittle has the best matchup, however, he is still as good as it gets.

The Lions have given up their fair share of production to the tight end position this season (and did so again to Cade Otton last week), but Aiyuk and CMC are more obvious mismatches for Detroit's defense in this contest. With that said, Kittle has proved time after time he needs only about two or three catches to make a huge impact. Although my projections do not reflect it, I think Kittle's ceiling is the highest at his position this week.

Mark Andrews - It appears Andrews (ankle) will return to game action this weekend for the first time since Week 11. How much he can contribute in his first game back after such a long layoff should be a concern for his fantasy managers. Andrews is one of the best in the league at what he does, but it might be a bit much to ask him to be his usual self right away. Another consideration is Kansas City has been very good at keeping tight ends in check this season. I might use Andrews in a few of my DFS lineups, but I would feel much better about trusting him in the Super Bowl (assuming the Ravens win this week, of course) after he has had an opportunity to re-acclimate.

Sam LaPorta - While he may be another week removed from his Week 18 knee injury, the fact LaPorta is still wearing a bulky brace suggests he is still very much affected by it. A healthy LaPorta would be a 50-50 proposition at best to have a decent day against the 49ers defense, so I am not overly confident Detroit will get more than a handful of mostly uninspiring catches from the rookie this week. Of all the tight ends San Francisco faced this season, Isaiah Likely was the only one who did much of anything after the catch. Especially at his price tag ($5,400), I think I would rather roll with Kittle for $100 less and take my chances with him.

Key for defense/special teams units:
PA - Points allowed
TD - Defensive/return touchdowns
TO - Total turnovers
PA Bonus - Points allowed bonus for DraftKings

 Defense / Special Teams
Team DK $ PA Sacks TD TO PA Bonus DK
49ers $3,400 13 4 2 0 4 12.0
Ravens $3,500 17 3 1 0 1 6.0
Chiefs $2,700 27 3 1 0 0 5.0
Lions $3,300 30 2 0 0 -1 1.0

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.