We’ve entered the part of the fantasy season in which we can overanalyze a short slate of games with great gusto. No more skimping on the ugly matchups. We’re all in on taking the microscope to every aspect of every game.
Below are breakdowns of all six Super Wild Card Weekend games, complete with thoughts on constructing unique lineups. Short slates demand we sometimes get weird with roster construction. I’m up for the challenge.
With each game I’ve included expected points added (EPA) data from Week 15 to Week 18, providing a snapshot of recent defensive strengths and shortcomings that might point us in the right direction as we try to outsmart our DFS opponents without outsmarting ourselves -- never an easy thing. Every game breakdown also includes full game stack ideas and skinny stack (non-QB) options for tournament lineup building.
But first, rankings. Below are ranks for every position in this weekend’s playoff slate. Godspeed.
Super Wild Card Weekend Rankings
1. Joe Mixon
2. Leonard Fournette
3. Najee Harris
4. Devin Singletary
5. Elijah Mitchell
6. Clyde Edwards-Helaire
7. James Conner
8. Sony Michel
9. Josh Jacobs
10. Damien Harris
11. Miles Sanders
12. Ezekiel Elliott
13. Rhamondre Stevenson
14. Darrel Williams
15. Tony Pollard
16. Chase Edmonds
17. Cam Akers
18. Boston Scott
19. Jordan Howard
20. Derrick Gore
1. Cooper Kupp
2. Deebo Samuel
3. Mike Evans
4. Stefon Diggs
5. Ja’Marr Chase
6. Diontae Johnson
7. Tee Higgins
8. Amari Cooper
9. CeeDee Lamb
10. Tyreek Hill
11. Hunter Renfrow
12. Christian Kirk
13. Cedrick Wilson
14. DeVonta Smith
15. Brandon Aiyuk
16. Ray-Ray McCloud
17. Jakobi Meyers
18. Zay Jones
19. Van Jefferson
20. Cole Beasley
21. Odell Beckham, Jr.
22. Gabriel Davis
23. Tyler Boyd
24. Breshad Perriman
25. Chase Claypool
26. Tyler Johnson
27. A.J. Green
28. Byron Pringle
29. Mecole Hardman
30. Emmanuel Sanders
1. Rob Gronkowski
2. Travis Kelce
3. Dallas Goedert
4. Darren Waller
5. Zach Ertz
6. George Kittle
7. Tyler Higbee
8. Dalton Schultz
9. Pat Freiermuth
10. Dawson Knox
11. C.J. Uzomah
12. Hunter Henry
13. Foster Moreau
14. Blake Jarwin
15. Zach Gentry
Super Wild Card Weekend Game Breakdowns
Bengals (-5.5) vs. Raiders
Cincinnati implied total: 27.25
Vegas implied total: 21.75
EPA allowed per play: 0.001 (18th)
Drop back EPA allowed: 0.026 (17th)
Rushing EPA allowed: -0.042 (18th)
Las Vegas Raiders
EPA allowed per play: 0.080 (25th)
Drop back EPA allowed: 0.189 (27th)
Rushing EPA allowed: -0.116 (8th)
It would be quite lovely if we could simply copy and paste the tendencies and production from these teams’ Week 11 meeting in which the Bengals buried the Raiders 32-13 with 19 fourth quarter points.
In Week 11 (late November) the Bengals were still intent on establishing the run like it was 1989. They had skewed run heavy for most of the season before that game and continued the trend against a mediocre Vegas rush defense. Joe Mixon turned 30 carries into 123 yards and two touchdowns as the Bengals ran the ball on 55 percent of their plays. Cincy’s pass rate over expectation was -3 percent. Joe Burrow, not shockingly, posted a paltry 148 yards and one touchdown pass in the resounding win. Ja’Marr Chase and Tee Higgins did next to nothing.
Zac Taylor has since thrown run-establishing caution into the proverbial wind, where it has blown into the ether. The Bengals over the regular season’s final month were sixth in pass rate over expectation. Their pass rate has jumped from 55 percent in the season’s first 12 weeks to 64 percent from Weeks 13-17 (we’re throwing out their meaningless Week 18 game). Only Tampa has been more pass heavy than the Bengals since the start of December. It’s been, in short, a glorious development for a loaded offense.
Mixon’s matchup is undeniably good here: Raiders opponents this year have the fourth lowest pass rate over expectation and -- as you see above -- Vegas is something short of a stout rush defense. It could all be too tempting for Taylor to pass up, putting Mixon in what the zoomers are calling a “smash spot.” It could very well be a “smash spot” for Mixon even if the Bengals go pass heavy; he has 14 targets over his past couple games, commanding a team-high targets per route run rate of 27 percent (though he only ran a route on about half of Burrow’s drop backs in those games, a slight concern).
Burrow, Higgins, and Chase are going to draw plenty of rostership this weekend. Probably Chase’s will be as high as any wideout with his Week 17 explosion fresh in our deranged minds. Rostering Mixon would offer leverage against another massive outing for Burrow and his pass catchers. Mixon’s path to touchdown upside is clear -- only Jonathan Taylor and James Conner have more rushing attempts inside the five yard line this season. Mixon along with one of Chase or Higgins would put you in position to benefit from an all-around nuclear performance from the Bengals. Mixon as the slate’s priciest running back might keep his rostership suppressed in larger fields with so many appealing receiver (and tight end) options on the board.
It was Tyler Boyd -- not Chase or Higgins -- who led the Bengals in all major receiving categories in Cincy's regular season win over Vegas. Boyd (and C.J. Uzomah, to a lesser extent) could take advantage of the Raiders' penchant for allowing completions on intermediate targets. Slot receivers like Jaylen Waddle (12 catches in Week 3), Keenan Allen (seven grabs on 12 targets in Week 4), and Cedrick Wilson (seven catches on 10 targets in Week 12) have had statistical success against Vegas this year.
The Raiders had a meager 14 rushing attempts in their Week 11 loss to the Bengals but their 62 percent pass rate equaled their season-long rate. The Silver and Black were actually well below their expected pass rate. Probably that’s because they were within a touchdown going into the fourth quarter before Cincinnati dropped 19 points in the final frame.
If Vegas’ game plan is going to look anything like recent Bengals opponents, Derek Carr is going to drop back early and often. Bengals opponents have the league’s fifth-highest pass rate over expectation this season. And if you’re building lineups under the assumption Vegas will be chasing points as road dogs, you have to assume they’ll take to the air at a heavy clip. The Raiders had a 70 percent pass rate while trailing in 2021; only the Bucs and Bills had a higher rate.
A bunch of Carr attempts is a decidedly good thing for … Zay Jones. And you thought I’d say Darren Waller or Hunter Renfrow. Well, them too. But it’s Jones who has an absurd targets per route run rate of 30 percent since Week 15, while Renfrow’s targets per route run sits at 20 percent over that four-game stretch. Leading the Raiders in expected receiving fantasy points from Week 15 to Week 18, Jones profiles as an ideal (and cheap) run-back option alongside a Cincy stack. The Bengals gave up the league's third most receptions of at least 20 yards this season -- a notable trend when considering Jones and his team-leading 41 percent air yards share since Week 15.
Waller’s Week 18 peripherals -- coming back from his knee injury -- were far better than his, you know, actual fantasy numbers. The process and whatnot. He ran a route on 94.8 percent of Carr’s drop backs and commanded a 25 percent target share. At $1,000 less than Travis Kelce on the full DraftKings slate, Waller is sure to draw high rostership. Still, his price point and Week 18 peripherals are tough (impossible) to ignore. Waller’s pricing is one reason a double tight end approach is very much viable for Super Duper Wild Card Weekend DFS.
Game Stack Ideas
Burrow, Chase or Higgins, Mixon, Jones or Waller
Burrow, Chase or Higgins, Mixon, two of Jones, Renfrow, and Waller
Burrow, two of Boyd, Chase, and Higgins, Mixon, Renfrow or Jones or Waller
Skinny Stack Ideas
Higgins or Chase, Renfrow or Jones or Waller
Bills (-4) vs. Patriots
Buffalo implied total: 23.5
New England implied total: 19.5
EPA allowed per play: -0.153 (4th)
Drop back EPA allowed: -0.268 (3rd)
Rushing EPA allowed: 0.047 (28th)
EPA allowed per play: 0.062 (20th)
Drop back EPA allowed: 0.109 (20th)
Rushing EPA allowed: 0.011 (24th)
The Bills, humiliated by the Pats in a Week 13 snow game that could have been played in 1947, really, truly ramped up their rushing attack in the regular season’s final weeks.
They used a sixth offensive lineman at an increased rate -- especially last week against the Jets -- and their pass rate has dropped from 65 percent in the season’s first 14 weeks to 56 percent from Week 15 to Week 18. Buffalo’s pass rate fell all the way to 49 percent while leading in their final four regular season tilts. They shuffled their offensive line until -- in December -- they found a combination that worked. They are establishing (but not stupidly, maintaining a high first down pass rate).
The more frequent use of heavy offensive personnel has sprung Devin Singletary from nearly unusable for fantasy purposes to a reliable producer. Singletary -- with 58 percent of the team’s rushing attempts over their past four games, the ninth-highest mark in the NFL -- is fourth among running backs in expected fantasy points since Week 15. What’s more, he’s been good: Only Rashaad Penny and Damien Harris have more fantasy points over expectation in the past month. No back with at least 100 rushes this year has a higher evasion rate than Singletary (21 percent), per Rotoviz's Corbin Young. Singletary is far more than just a floor play against New England if the Bills can generate enough neutral and positive game script.
Before Buffalo’s abandonment of their 2020 pass-first-pass-always offense, Josh Allen had accounted for 24 percent of the team’s rushing attempts, or 6.25 rushes per game. The more run-curious Bills offense has generated much more rushing opportunity for Allen, who -- since Week 14, has taken 31 percent of the team’s rushing attempts for 9.6 rushes per contest. I’ll cut to the chase and say this shift makes Allen more viable as a naked option (fully clothed, but without a pass catcher attached to him) in GPP formats. The highest-priced QB on this week’s slate in a hideous matchup, Allen could be rostered in a comically low number of lineups.
Stefon Diggs’ devastatingly disappointing 2021 fantasy season could very well put his rostership in the single digits against New England. He’s dominated targets since Buffalo’s move to a more balanced offense (29 percent target) and he’s one year removed from piling up 15 catches for 237 yards and three touchdowns in two regular season games against the Patriots. And in case your memory is shorter than a gnat’s, Diggs went for 85 yards and a score on seven receptions against the Patriots three weeks ago. While DFS players gravitate to Wild Card games with far more attractive scoring environments, taking a handful of antacids and stacking Allen and Diggs might be the way toward the top of a large-field tournament.
We can throw out New England’s Stone Age offense from the last time they played the Bills in Buffalo, barring another winter weather apocalypse (it could be the coldest game in Bills history but precipitation is unlikely). We know, however, the Pats want to run the ball enough to put analytics nerds into a coma. Only the Eagles have a lower pass rate over expectation since Week 15. New England has a 47 percent pass rate when leading this season. If things go according to plan, Damien Harris and Rhamondre Stevenson should combine for north of 30 carries, with Branden Bolden sprinkled in as the team’s third-down back.
If things go haywire with the Patriots’ best-laid plans, their pass catchers become, well, intriguing. Mac Jones and company, in their Week 16 spanking at the hands of the Bills, posted a mind-blowing 17 percent pass rate over expectation. Jones was horrendous, as he’s been any time the team has been forced to rely on him.
Jakobi Meyers led the way with six catches on eight targets for 59 yards in an eminently forgettable game. Buffalo used man coverage in Week 16 far more often than they had in the season’s first 15 weeks and Jones missed Meyers -- the team’s highest-rated wideout against man coverage, per PFF -- on a couple of potentially big gains. With a 27 percent target share in the season’s final five weeks, Meyers becomes a volume-based option if New England is forced out of its run-establishing comfort zone. In that final regular season stretch, Meyers sported a 27 percent targets per route run rate, by far the highest among Pats pass catchers.
Game Stack Ideas
Allen, Singletary, Diggs, Meyers
Allen, Diggs, Harris, Meyers
Skinny Stack ideas
Diggs, Harris or Stephenson
Buccaneers (-9.5) vs. Eagles
Tampa Bay implied total: 28.75
Philadelphia implied total: 19.25
EPA allowed per play: -0.171 (2nd)
Drop back EPA allowed: -0.137 (6th)
Rushing EPA allowed: -0.235 (2nd)
EPA allowed per play: 0.020 (17th)
Drop back EPA allowed: 0.008 (13th)
Rushing EPA allowed: 0.042 (27th)
Leonard Fournette seems ready to morph back into Lombardi Lenny just in time for the postseason. Apparently recovered from a serious hamstring injury, Fournette should be active for this one, returning to his every-down duties in a Tampa backfield that was predictably putrid without him.
Neither a run nor a pass funnel, the Eagles don’t have a glaring defensive weakness. The pass-always Bucs could choose to bludgeon Philadelphia through the air, though positive game script would put Fournette in a good spot for a 20-touch workload.
In Bucs wins this year, Fournette has averaged 14.8 carries. In losses, that number plunged to eight per game. On Sunday he’ll match up with what Pro Football Focus has graded as the league’s eighth-worst rush defense, one that gave up the 11th most fantasy points to running backs in 2021. Much like Mixon, Fournette provides reasonable leverage on Brady stacks with his primary pass catchers. It doesn’t hurt that Fournette had run the NFL’s fifth-most running back pass routes -- seeing a target on an encouraging 25 percent of those routes -- before his Week 15 hamstring injury. I’m old enough to remember when Lenny had 127 yards and two touchdowns on 28 touches against the Eagles in Week 6. He’s laughably mispriced on DraftKings if he gets his regular workload.
Rob Gronkowski, in a slate full of viable tight end options, could be the best upside tight end play of Wild Card Weekend. The alleged military insurance fraudster goes against a Philly defense allowing the second-most tight end targets (125) and the fourth-highest tight end target share (24.9 percent) on the year. Gronk’s route participation rate has jumped to 78.3 percent since Chris Godwin’s season-ending knee injury and he leads the Bucs in expected receiving fantasy points. O.J. Howard and Cameron Brate, with Gronk sidelined in Tampa’s Week 6 win over Philadelphia, totaled 75 yards and a touchdown, commanding a combined 28 percent target share. It’s a spot to smash for the venerable USAA spokesman.
Breshad Perriman has piqued my galaxy brain's interest this week. Tampa's wide receiver issues -- injuries, in-game retirements, that sort of thing -- has left Perriman as a legit perimeter threat who should run a good number of routes against the Eagles. Perriman last week against Carolina ran a route on 70 percent of Brady's drop backs and caught five of his six targets for 44 yards. His yards per route run trailed Evans and Gronk. Perriman profiles as a thin DFS play, but one that could prove an efficient stacking partner with his 77-year-old signal caller.
If one takes the leap and assumes Jalen Hurts is over his lingering ankle issue, the Eagles QB becomes an obvious correlation stack alongside Fournette, Gronkowski, and Mike Evans. Against these Bucs in Week 6, Hurts had 44 yards on ten rushes, scoring twice. Forget that Hurts had a horrific 35 percent passing success rate against a Bucs defense that has failed to contain dual-threat QBs all year. A game full of point chasing gives Hurts as much upside as any Wild Card Weekend signal caller.
If one feels compelled to stack a pass catcher with Hurts, one should consider Dallas Goedert. Officially freed following Zach Ertz’s dismissal to the desert, Goedert leads all NFL tight ends in targets per route run rate (29 percent) since Week 11. He’s behind only George Kittle in yards per target (10.8) over that two-month span. Goedert has every chance to run an obscene number of routes and take in a glut of targets against the league’s third most extreme pass funnel defense. Tight ends averaged 7.13 targets per game against the Bucs; luckily for us, Goedert gets all the tight end looks in Philly’s offense.
Miles Sanders is only interesting if you create a lineup predicated on the Eagles winning, or at least keeping it tight. Philadelphia has a microscopic 37 percent pass rate when leading this season. As an advocate for the forward pass, I’m triggered. Sanders’ matchup stinks but the volume would be there in such a scenario.
Game Stack Ideas
Brady, Gronkowski, Evans, Goedert
Brady, Fournette, Evans or Gronkowski, Goedert
Hurts, Goedert, Fournette
Hurt, Evans or Gronkowski, Fournette
Hurts, Sanders, Fournette
Skinny Stack Ideas
Hurts, Evans or Gronkowski
Goedert, Evans or Gronkowski, Fournette
Cowboys (-3) vs. 49ers
Dallas implied total: 27
San Francisco implied total: 24
EPA allowed per play: -0.065 (10th)
Drop back EPA allowed: -0.090 (8th)
Rushing EPA allowed: -0.023 (22nd)
EPA allowed per play: -0.074 (7th)
Drop back EPA allowed: -0.053 (15th)
Rushing EPA allowed: -0.277 (1st)
The Cowboys, as you see above, have been porous -- bad, even -- against the run over the past month. Not that they’ve allowed big running back performances, thanks primarily to game script, but there’s clearly vulnerability in the team’s rush defense -- the kind that activates Kyle Shanahan’s salivary glands.
It’s no secret that the Niners want to annihilate every opponent via the run. They have the NFL’s second-lowest pass rate over expectation, with a pass rate of just 42 percent when leading. A game in which the 49ers hang tough with Dallas -- or jump out to a lead against a very beatable Cowboys team -- would mean massive run volume for Elijah Mitchell and Deebo Samuel. Since Week 11, when Shanahan turned Deebo into a running back, he has 21 percent of the team’s rushing attempts. That’s meant at least six carries for Deebo in six of the Niners’ last seven regular season games. His pass game involvement (he remains a wideout, after all) should mean we can play unquestioned workhorse Mitchell and Deebo together in GPP lineups this weekend.
A DFS lineup predicated on the Niners chasing points would put Jauan Jennings very much in play as a dirt-cheap option who benefited from negative game script just one week ago against the Rams (six catches for 94 yards and two touchdowns). The same goes for Brandon Aiyuk, whose DraftKings price point leaves much to be desired. George Kittle, meanwhile, is tough to figure out. He’s been targeted on a deeply concerning 17 percent of his pass routes since Week 15, though his route participation rate is fine (73.5 percent, right around his season-long rate). Kittle only makes sense in a lineup without Mitchell; their fantasy prospects hinge on two very different game scripts.
I can’t imagine a less appealing fantasy option than Ezekiel Elliott going against a stellar San Francisco rush defense. Only the Saints have given up a lower rushing success rate this year. I would concede that Zeke profiles as a risky contrarian option if he had any sort of upside in his old age. He does not.
Little chance of rushing success leaves Dak Prescott and the Dallas pass catchers to do the yard gaining and the point scoring. Having shifted to the pass -- Dallas has the league’s fifth-highest pass rate since Week 15 -- and facing a shutdown front seven, it’s easy to envision 40-plus attempts for Prescott on Sunday. It would certainly make sense against the NFL’s eighth most extreme pass funnel defense since the start of December.
I’m bullish on Prescott and his pass catchers in part because Dallas’ excellent offensive line, graded by Pro Football Focus as the league’s third-best pass blocking unit, should largely neutralize the Niners’ vicious pass rush. Prescott, who’s been mostly decent this year even when under pressure, could have a real chance to pick apart an exploitable San Francisco secondary.
The question arises: Which Cowboys wideout is more likely to go off in a pass-heavy game script? On the season, CeeDee Lamb leads Amari Cooper in targets per route run rate, 24 to 21 percent. There’s been a marked shift though. Cooper has been targeted on 21 percent of his routes since Week 15 while Lamb’s rate sits at 18 percent. Cooper is running more pass routes too.
Lamb’s route participation in the season’s final four games was a mind-boggling 77.7%, in line with Dalton Schultz. Cooper’s much higher yards per target in recent weeks likely makes him the better stacking partner with Dak. He’s even more appealing considering Lamb will carry higher rostership. I’ll now hedge by telling you Lamb, who has primarily played from the slot since Michael Gallup’s season-ending knee injury, would be the latest slot receiver to find success against the 49ers, who’ve given up solid production to Tyler Boyd, Adam Thielen, and Cooper Kupp this season. Probably Kupp goes without saying.
Cedrick Wilson, for better or worse, can't be ignored as the Cowboys' No. 3 receiver. Wilson trails only Dalton Schultz in targets per route run over the team's past two games (Lamb and Cooper didn't play for some of the Cowboys' Week 18 win over the Eagles). His route participation levels as Dallas' third receiving option this season give plenty of reason to believe Wilson will see the field plenty against San Francisco.
Game Stack Ideas
Prescott, Cooper, Lamb, Samuel and Kittle
Prescott, two of Wilson, Cooper and Lamb, Samuel, Mitchell
Prescott, Cooper or Lamb, Schultz, Samuel or Mitchell
Prescott, Cooper and Lamb, Aiyuk or Jennings or Kittle
Skinny Stack Ideas
Cooper or Lamb and Mitchell
Cooper or Lamb or Wilson and Samuel
Cooper or Lamb and Samuel or Mitchell
Cooper or Lamb or Wilson and Kittle
Chiefs (-13) vs. Steelers
Kansas City implied total: 29.5
Pittsburgh implied total: 16.5
EPA allowed per play: 0.048 (18th)
Drop back EPA allowed: 0.153 (22nd)
Rushing EPA allowed: -0.127 (7th)
EPA allowed per play: -0.112 (6th)
Drop back EPA allowed: -0.115 (5th)
Rushing EPA allowed: -0.055 (17th)
I’m forced to write about the Steelers since President Biden did not take executive action and revoke the team’s postseason berth, as I had hoped. Sorry to get political.
Perhaps having nothing to lose will free the Steelers to run a slightly more aggressive offense against the heavily-favored Chiefs. Ben Roethlisberger said as much on Wednesday. Kansas City, meanwhile, has everything to lose. There are no analytics to measure the pressure a team does or does not feel in a given matchup, but expectations couldn’t be lower for Pittsburgh. They’re Rocky fighting Apollo Creed if Rocky had recently broken his left arm in three places.
Probably there will be fleetingly few downfield plays for the Steelers in this one. Their middling offensive line will get all they can handle from a KC defense with the league’s fifth-highest QB pressure rate (26.4 percent) and the ninth-lowest passing success rate since Week 10. It’ll be another game of never-ending checkdowns from the dustiest quarterback in the NFL.
This, of course, makes Diontae Johnson and Najee Harris volume-based options in a game that should see Pittsburgh chase points like my dog chases squirrels in his quixotic tradition. We’ll start with Harris, the ultimate compiler: Only Alvin Kamara, Christian McCaffrey, and D’Andre Swift had a higher target share among running backs in the games they played this season. Harris’ 94 targets tied Austin Ekeler for the league lead among backs. In Pittsburgh losses this season, Harris notched 7.43 targets per game. In wins: 4.22. Running backs facing the Chiefs saw the NFL’s fifth-highest target share (22.7 percent). It sets up nicely for a 7-10 target outing for Harris unless the Steelers shock the Western world and play from ahead against KC. In the Steelers’ Week 16 blowout loss to Kansas City, Harris reeled in five of seven targets (17 percent target share).
Johnson, as per usual, led the Steelers with nine targets in that Week 16 loss to the Chiefs. He caught six for 51 yards and a touchdown -- a typical result when the Steelers have furiously chased points in the second half this season. Johnson being the seventh highest-priced wideout in DraftKings’ full PPR scoring makes him nearly unavoidable if you’re stacking this game. His 29 percent target per route run rate ranked fourth among receivers who ran at least 200 routes in 2021, and now he faces a Chiefs defense that became one of the league’s most extreme pass funnels in the season’s second half.
Forget Chase Claypool and look to Ray Ray McCloud as a low-priced way to benefit from a back and forth affair or one in which the Steelers spend three quarters dropping back and passing. McCloud since week 14 leads all Pittsburgh pass catchers with a 26 percent target per route run rate. With a yards per target around four over that stretch, he could join Johnson and Harris as the recipients of nonstop short tosses from Roethlisberger. He commanded 19 percent of the team’s targets in Week 16 against Kansas City.
Tyreek Hill is expected to be good to go against the Steelers a week after hurting his heel on a ridiculous pregame end zone grab. Color me skeptical that he’ll be at full strength -- a prospect that will make it tough to spend up on the slate’s fifth-highest priced wideout. Hill was infamously shut down in the Chiefs’ Week 16 win over the Steelers, held to two grabs on two targets. The team’s identity change forced by the apparently unstoppable cover-2 shell has all but decimated Hill’s upside. Look no further than his 7.8 yards per target this year, way down from his career mark of 9.4 and his career-high of 11.3. Hill’s targets per route run rate has gone from 30 percent from Week 1-12 to 23 percent over the season’s last six contests. The only real argument for forcing Hill into Wild Card lineups is the prospect of (very) low rostership and a long run after the catch. The deep shots aren’t happening.
Travis Kelce’s targets per route run, meanwhile, have increased from 24 percent in the first 12 weeks of the season to 26 percent in the last six weeks. That the Steelers aren’t particularly generous to tight ends shouldn’t matter for Patrick Mahomes’ main target, assuming he’s not too terribly banged up.
Clyde Edwards-Helaire’s return to the KC lineup complicates things for DFS purposes. There’s no clear path to volume for CEH or Darrel Williams if Edwards-Helaire is indeed back from his shoulder injury. Pittsburgh opponents have time and again shifted hard toward the run in 2021 -- the Steelers ended the regular season as the NFL’s most extreme run funnel defense. Edwards-Helaire, presumably and inexplicably the Chiefs’ lead back when he’s healthy, could therefore be a quiet volume-based Wild Card Weekend option. KC running backs combined for 33 carries in Week 16 against these Steelers. Andy Reid’s game plan was clearly to hammer the Steelers’ shoddy run defense. The Chiefs’ pass rate was 48 percent, 14 percent lower than their season-long rate.
Game Stack Ideas
Mahomes, Hill or Kelce, Johnson and Harris
Mahomes, Hill or Kelce, two of Johson, Harris, and McCloud
Mahomes, Hill, Kelce, Harris and McCloud or Johnson
Mahomes, CEH, Kelce, McCloud or Johnson
Skinny Stack Ideas
Hill or Kelce and Johnson or Harris
Hill or Kelce and two of McCloud, Harris, and Johnson
Williams or CEH, Kelce or Hill, Johnson or Harris
Rams (-4) vs. Cardinals
LA implied total: 26.75
Arizona implied total: 22.75
EPA allowed per play: -0.042 (11th)
Drop back EPA allowed: -0.025 (12th)
Rushing EPA allowed: -0.066 (14th)
EPA allowed per play: 0.077 (24th)
Drop back EPA allowed: 0.270 (31st)
Rushing EPA allowed: -0.117 (3rd)
Not to be dramatic, but I imagine fading Cooper Kupp on a short DFS slate feels something like downing a few beers and balancing on a tightrope strung between two skyscrapers. Matthew Stafford’s breakfast buddy and target dominator in the Rams offense -- appropriately priced as the slate’s highest priced wideout -- requires one to go cheap (real cheap) elsewhere. Ray-Ray McCloud and Zay Jones start to look mighty fine if you start your lineup with Kupp in a receiver slot.
He’ll be a tough fade against a Cards defense that’s been heinous against the pass since Week 15. A run funnel defense for much of the 2021 season, Arizona has been ripped through the air in recent weeks. The past five quarterbacks to face the Cardinals have eclipsed 20 fantasy points, including all-time greats Andy Dalton and Jared Goff. The Cardinals, allowing the fifth-highest yards per pass attempts in the past four weeks, are ripe for the ripping on Monday night.
Matthew Stafford has a cool 567 yards, five touchdowns, and one pick against Arizona in two 2021 meetings. Stafford in the Rams’ Week 14 loss to the Cardinals had the league’s fourth-highest combined EPA and completion rate over expectation that week. He’s been good against Arizona and there’s little reason to think he’ll struggle on Monday night.
Though Odell Beckham has a markedly higher targets per route run than Van Jefferson since OBJ became a full-time player in Sean McVay’s offense, it’s Jefferson who has the splash play appeal. His 9.4 yards per target dwarfs Beckham’s 6.3 yards per target since Week 12, and Jefferson’s 484 air yards is second only to Kupp in that span. His 14.7 air yards per target leads the team since Week 12; Jefferson is my preferred secondary stacking option if you’re rolling with Stafford and Kupp for a Monday night hammer lineup.
Arizona, as seen above, has been among the NFL’s stingiest rush defenses since Week 15. Sony Michel still holds some short slate appeal because he’ll (almost) certainly see LA’s carries near the goal line in a game with the week’s highest total. Michel, who had 20 carries for 79 yards in Week 14 against Arizona, has turned into a volume play as a shellshocked and reeling McVay has turned toward the run in recent weeks. He’s a sneaky, low-priced option that’s probably best used in a Monday night skinny stack.
Arizona’s backfield injury questions are a two-ton anchor hanging over DFS players wanting to stack the Monday night game. When James Conner is alone in the Cards backfield, he’s as appealing (and productive) as nearly any runner in the game. Cardinals head coach Kliff Kingsbury said Wednesday that Conner is day to day with a rib injury he picked up near the end of the team’s Week 18 loss to Seattle. Chase Edmonds -- who missed Week 18 with a rib ailment -- could be back for the team’s Wild Card tilt, putting me and you on tilt. If one is bound and determined to get an Arizona back into one’s lineup, one might plug Conner (the higher priced option) into one’s flex spot and wait for injury news on Monday. We could, of course, get clarity before then.
Zach Ertz is a safe play for any sort of game script. He leads the team with a 26 percent targets per route run rate since Week 14 and has the most expected fantasy points of any Arizona pass catcher over the season’s final five games. Ertz gets a boost if the Cardinals fall behind and Kyler Murray is forced to drop back time and again, but he’s fine even if the team leads and deploys a slightly more run-heavy approach. Commanding a 21 percent target share since Week 14, Christian Kirk would be the other reasonable stacking option alongside Murray. Using both Ertz and Kirk in an offense with the NFL’s eighth-lowest pass rate is … a questionable call.
The Rams, struggling with safety injury issues, this week brought Eric Weddle out of retirement. It could be tough action for the LA secondary -- and not-so-tough action for Murray and his pass catchers -- if Weddle is forced into significant playing time here.
Game Stack Ideas
Stafford, Kupp, Jefferson, Conner, Ertz or Kirk
Stafford, Kupp, Jefferson, Kirk or Ertz
Murray, Ertz or Kirk, Kupp, Michel
Murray, Conner, Ertz or Kirk, Kupp, Michel
Murray, Conner, Ertz or Kirk, Kupp
Skinny Stack Ideas
Kupp, Ertz or Kirk
Kupp, Conner or Edmonds, Ertz or Kirk
Michel, Kupp, Ertz or Kirk
Conner or Edmonds, Kupp