In this weekly article, we’ll use the early betting lines from Vegas to take a deeper look at which games to target and avoid for NFL DFS. Implied team totals have positive correlations with fantasy output, especially for quarterbacks. Plus, we’ll highlight some potentially under the radar teams with high implied team totals despite a lower over/under. Note that these lines will probably change over the course of the week, which is why we call it ‘starting’ points. This week the article focuses on the full Saturday – Monday slate of six NFL Wild Card games.
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San Francisco at Dallas, Total 51
This post-season features a great balance of the best offenses and the best defenses. Dallas is the highest scoring team in the league, dangerous at home and fully healthy. I’m honestly surprised the spread isn’t more in the Cowboys’ favor. Dak Prescott finished the regular season as QB 7, and his final three games show that he is in his best form heading into this weekend. He has typically performed a bit better at home than on the road (about seven fantasy points per game better) and his salary relative to some of the other options makes him one of the safest floor/ceiling combination plays this week. I see this contest being dominated by the pass game, so Ezekiel Elliott is not on my list, even if you’re only playing the Sunday main slate. Instead, I think Cedric Wilson is a great value this weekend in all formats (more on him in the bargain article) as Prescott’s new go-to guy along with Dalton Schultz. Amari Cooper and CeeDee Lamb are also priced in the lower tier and I like them both in tournaments. They’ve been quiet despite the Cowboy’s offensive dominance to end the season…perhaps one or both are due for a ceiling game. San Francisco has been a better run defense than pass, allowing the 12th most fantasy points to wide receivers this season. Schultz is tempting, coming off a two-score game, but he’s just as likely to disappear completely as score again this weekend. There are other tight end options I prefer, regardless of whether you’re playing Sunday only or the full slate.
The narrow spread is a clue that we shouldn’t write off the 49ers too quickly when building DFS lineups. Despite many fans preferring to see Trey Lance at QB, the team is firmly committed to Jimmy Garoppolo as long as he’s healthy. I’m not eager to roster him, but I think mixing George Kittle and Deebo Samuel into lineups makes a lot of sense. Dallas has been fantastic at stopping the run, but ranks 10th in fantasy points to WR and 12th to TE. While Samuel is the safest WR play, Brandon Aiyuk and Juan Jennings have both been very involved with 5-7 targets and touchdowns in the last couple weeks. The 49ers love to run the ball, but I’m going to reserve Eli Mitchell for tournaments only given the tough matchup, his rising salary, and my general feeling that this is going to be more of an air game.
Arizona at LA Rams, Total 50
A lot of people will be playing the three separate slates this weekend, which makes this a showdown game for many. I’m putting it in the context of the full slate, with full slate salaries in mind as well as the alternatives to consider. Cooper Kupp is the most expensive player on the six-game slate on all three sites and it’s not particularly close. The decision to spend up is complicated by the data we have from two previous meetings with the Cardinals this season. In Week 4, the Rams hosted Arizona and Kupp had just five catches on 13 targets, posting his worst fantasy line of the season. But in Week 14, he had 13 catches on 15 targets, with well over 100 receiving yards and a score. Arizona is officially the fourth-best WR matchup in the league for fantasy. My take is that if you can build a lineup with Kupp that doesn’t require a major leap of faith or miracle from a third-string running back, you should do it. No one has more 100-plus yard receiving games, more touchdowns, more receptions, more targets…you name it, Kupp dominated it. The rest of the team is far more risky. Sony Michel was awful, despite a ton of opportunity in Week 18, and the expectation is that Cam Akers will be getting more involved. Odell Beckham Jr. and Van Jefferson are wild cards to catch a touchdown or two, as is Tyler Higbee, but I’d rather roll the dice on one of the cheap Rams’ receivers. I think Higbee will go a little over-rostered this week after catching two TDs in the regular season finale. Matthew Stafford and his apparent toe injury will be monitored carefully this week, but I’m not following too closely as there are other QBs I like a whole lot more. Stafford, thanks largely to Kupp, has been decent for his DFS prices despite throwing half of his interceptions for the season in the last four games.
Momentum in the post-season is an interesting facet. Our brains like to make more of it than we should, which is why I look at how the Cardinals ended the season with a lot of trepidation. Losing to Detroit, Indianapolis and Seattle in three of the last four weeks is not great. On the plus side, Murray was largely mistake-free in that span, with a pretty high pass-volume, and James Conner looked like the lone bright spot before suffering a rib injury in Week 18 (same issue as Chase Edmonds is dealing with). We need much more clarity on the status of both backs before making any firm decisions, but if Conner is healthy, he’s definitely a top choice. I loved Zach Ertz last week and he was able to continue his streak of six-plus reception games on 10 targets from Murray. I think he’s the best Arizona receiving option given his low salary and the volume. Those in the showdown will want to consider Christian Kirk and A.J. Green for their upside, but the risk/reward calculation on both of them in the full slate says fade to me. Green produced good numbers both times the Cardinals played the Rams in the regular season.
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New England at Buffalo, Total 43.5
This game is a good one to take your D/ST from, given the low total and the overall greatness of both units. Buffalo allows the fewest points per game, New England the second-fewest. They are tied for second with 30 takeaways. They’re also similar offensively, with both ranking in the Top 6 in points per game, taking a low 1.6 sacks per game, and turning the ball over a fair amount, 22 (Buffalo) or 23 (NE) times per game. The offensive prowess of Buffalo, in particular, has the Patriots’ D/ST looking like a nice bargain play this weekend. The temperatures without wind chill are expected to be in or near the single digits in Buffalo Saturday night, which is going to impact the pass game on both sides. I think pairing the Patriots’ D/ST with Damien Harris, who has destroyed Buffalo this season in good and bad weather, is a reasonably high-floor strategy. Being a Western New Yorker, I think (hope) that Josh Allen and the Bills come out victorious, but in a low scoring and probably not mistake-free effort that makes the salaries of Allen and Diggs just too high for this slate.
Cincinnati vs. Las Vegas, Total 49.5
With Joe Burrow and other members of the Bengals offense taking Week 18 off, I’m curious how popular they’ll be on the six-game slate. I’m excited for Cincy and plan to include Burrow, Joe Mixon, and Ja’Marr Chase in many of my lineups. Las Vegas is one of the few bottom-half defenses in the playoffs. They ranked 26th in the regular season in points allowed and 11th (the best rank of all the playoff teams) in fantasy points allowed to opponents. They have been particularly generous to opposing running backs and tight ends (fourth to both positions), while having much better numbers vs. opposing wide receivers. Chase has proven matchup-proof so far in his young career, and I think he will be a key aspect of the Bengals’ attack. C.J. Uzomah has disappointed in other favorable matchups this season, but remains involved in the game plan with generally 6-7 targets per game. He really needs to score to exceed value.
Kansas City vs. Pittsburgh, Total 46
The Chiefs are another great offensive team with a sneaky good defense. They scored the fourth-most points this season, but allowed the eighth-fewest. This is the largest spread of the first weekend of playoff football, and it might be small if you consider that Kansas City just beat the Steelers at home 36-10 in Week 16. The D/ST put up 12 fantasy points in that one, and averaged about 10 fantasy points per game at home this season. Tyreek Hill had a very quiet end to the regular season, including just two targets in the blowout win over Pittsburgh. His higher salary and lack of recent production could make him a lower-rostered GPP play with immense upside if Pittsburgh is able to mount any kind of competition. Travis Kelce, on the other hand, finished the season hot, and isn’t much more expensive than Rob Gronkowski or George Kittle. He’s the clear top TE option if you can fit him (Kelce is actually a dollar cheaper than Gronk on Yahoo). The KC running back situation isn’t clear at this time, but if I had to guess, it sounds like Clyde Edwards-Helaire should be able to play Sunday. Darrel Williams is also questionable after sustaining a toe injury in Week 18’s win over Denver. There are better options unless one guy is clearly the healthy starter – Pittsburgh does rank seventh in fantasy points to RBs.
Tampa Bay vs. Philadelphia, Total 49
Tom Brady and the Bucs are the second-highest scoring team in the league and the Tampa defense was the fifth-best. They’ve dealt with injuries all season long and come out on top. I’m sticking with a solid core of Bucs players including Brady, Gronk and Mike Evans. I’m awaiting practice reports on Leonard Fournette, who is expected back this week. The Eagles are a classic funnel defense, ranking 31st in fantasy points to WRs but 10th to RB, a pattern that has repeated over the past couple seasons. It’s also worth noting that they are the best TE matchup in the league despite playing in a division without any stars at the position. Gronkowski is expensive, but I think he’ll be heavily relied upon. Cameron Brate makes for a super-cheap flier at the position as he is often looked to in the red zone. His 19 red zone targets tie for second-most in the league and are considerably more than Gronkowski’s 10 (though Gronk has one more red zone touchdown (5) than Brate (4)).