Making DFS tournament lineups is about telling yourself a story. The trick? You have to convince yourself that you're right.
There's no point in hedging if you're making lineups for large field DFS tournaments. Construct your lineup as if you have seen the future, as if you are absolutely correct in how these games will play out. If Player X goes off, then Player Y could also go off. If this player fails to meet fantasy expectations, who in their offense would provide leverage? Your tournament lineups should be spectacularly right or spectacularly wrong; nothing in between.
Below is a breakdown of all six Wild Card Weekend games, with suggestions on how one might stack these contests in DFS tournaments. Get unreasonably assured about your NFL thought leading and make some correct lineups.
Seahawks (+10) at 49ers
49ers implied total: 26.75
Seahawks implied total: 16.75
The massive point spread and the ascending Niners offense says Kyle Shanahan's offense will have every opportunity this week to establish it like it's 1987. That means Christian McCaffrey, facing the league's ninth most extreme run funnel defense, would be locked in for 20 touches -- and many of the high-value kind (receptions and touches inside the ten).
The chalk scenario would also put Elijah Mitchell in play as a decent -- though very game script sensitive -- DFS option. Last week in a blowout of the Cardinals, Mitchell took five carries for 55 yards and two touchdowns. Mitchell and CMC could quite easily combine for 200 rushing yards and multiple scores against a Seattle defense allowing the NFL's highest rush EPA since Week 12.
Run-back options alongside a Niners rusher (or two, if you're getting weirder than weird) would obviously include DK Metcalf, Tyler Lockett, and the Seattle tight ends. It's Noah Fant who has a slight edge in pass routes over Colby Parkinson over the past three games, but it's Parkinson with the 14-10 target advantage and a nearly ten point lead in expected fantasy points. He's a sneaky, cost-saving play if you're assuming a runaway pass-heavy script for the Seahawks.
The Seahawks' late-season doldrums can be traced to one factor: They were bruised and battered in the trenches over the season's final month and a half. Their offensive line faltered down the stretch, affecting both Geno Smith's pressure rate and Kenneth Walker's rushing production. Walker in the season's first eight weeks was fourth in yards before contact per rush; in the final nine weeks, he was 26th.
Walker profiles as one of the preeminent contrarian options in this week's DFS contests because he has a locked-in workload (he has 78 rushes over the past three games) and he'll have minuscule rostership in an objective heinous matchup against the 49ers' brick wall rush defense. Walker, with the league's second highest breakaway rate, per PFF, is one of the few postseason backs always on the cusp of a long run. Walker would only succeed in a scenario where Pete Carroll's team generates neutral and positive script throughout.
We know Seattle wants to protect themselves from a Geno meltdown: They have been under their expected pass rate in six of their past eight games.
A 49ers offense chasing points would naturally lean on their best pass catchers. Any situation that would inflate target volume for George Kittle would make him tantalizing in this weekend's six-game slate. Seattle has been a strangely terrible matchup for opposing receivers for the entire season; only three defenses have given up fewer wideout catches in 2022.
Tight ends and running backs are an entirely different story. No team allows more tight end yards per target (9) than the Seahawks, and no one allowed more fantasy points per game to tight ends in the regular season. Kittle, you may remember, posted a 4/92/2 line when these teams played in Week 15.
Seahawks linebackers Jordyn Brooks and Cody Barton are among the worst coverage linebackers in the league, according to PFF grades. Seattle's Johnathan Abram is PFF's fifth worst coverage safety. Kittle will have enormous upside if the 49ers are pushed off their conservative game plan.
Game Stack Ideas
McCaffrey, Kittle, Walker
Purdy, McCaffrey, Kittle, Lockett or Metcalf or Parkinson
Chargers (-2) at Jaguars
Chargers implied total: 24.75
Jaguars implied total: 22.75
It's not easy to pin down a chalky scenario in such an evenly matched game -- one in which the Jags should probably be favored. But because the Bolts are officially favored, we'll use a Chargers win as a starting point for a chalky outcome for this contest. Jaguars fans: Please don't egg my house. (The most likely way the Jaguars can knock the Chargers off their game plan is to pressure Justin Herbert, and with the league's sixth highest pressure rate, they could do just that).
LA is a legit pass-first team. They sport the league's fourth highest pass rate over expected. A mere six teams have a higher pass rate over expected on first and ten. A game full of positive game script for the Chargers would likely mean a solid day for Justin Herbert and his primary pass catchers: Austin Ekeler and Keenan Allen, who have combined for 41 percent of the team's targets since Week 14.
Allen enters the Wild Card round fully healthy and red hot as the team's alpha pass catcher. Justin Jefferson is the only wideout with more receptions than Allen since Week 11, when he returned to the team's starting lineup. He should have little trouble against a middling Jacksonville secondary giving up the 17th highest EPA per drop back and the seventh highest rate of positive pass plays. If Mike Williams is sidelined with his back injury, Allen will be a highly chalky play, but one worth considering in any tournament lineup build.
Zay Jones and Christian Kirk would be the premier run-back plays if the Chargers play from ahead. Evan Engram, meanwhile, faces one of the toughest defenses against enemy tight ends. The man coverage-heavy Chargers defense set up well for Kirk, whose target share spikes against man coverage. In fact, only ten wideouts had more targets against man coverage during the regular season. Against the Bolts in Week 3, Kirk reeled in six of nine targets for 72 yards and a touchdown.
I would think, judging by Doug Pederson's determination to establish it against a tough Titans front four in Week 18, the Jaguars are ready and willing to ride Travis Etienne against a horrid LA run defense. The Chargers allow the league's sixth highest rate of positive rush plays and fourth highest rush EPA. Only Houston allowed more rushing yards in 2022. LA's defense has been horrendous on the road this year: Only the Packers, Bears, and Lions allow more yards per play as the road team.
With 53 percent of the team's rushing attempts since Week 10, Etienne should, at worst, have a chance to put up gaudy numbers in the Wild Card round. James Robinson and Etienne combined for 30 carries and 145 rushing yards in Jacksonville's Week 3 demolition of the Chargers. The Jags had the eighth highest rush EPA of that week. Etienne is always a threat for a long run too: Only five running backs had a higher breakaway rate in the regular season.
Allen, Ekeler, and Williams (if he plays) would all make sense as beneficiaries in a point-chasing situation for Brandon Staley's offense. Ekeler saw a slight increase in opportunity and production in LA losses this season, averaging 7.8 targets and 51.2 receiving yards per game.
Game Stack Ideas
Herbert, Ekeler and/or Allen, Kirk or Jones
Lawrence, Kirk and Jones, Allen or Ekeler
Dolphins (+13) at Bills
Bills implied total: 28.25
Dolphins implied total: 15.25
Aliens would have to land on the Bills home field and escort Josh Allen onto their craft if this game is going to be remotely close. The analytics say this is unlikely.
Skylar Thompson starting for Miami makes this a decidedly bad environment for Allen and Stefon Diggs (and other Bills skill position players) to hit their fantasy ceilings. I just can't see Buffalo's offense being pushed in any meaningful way. Allen and the Bills could certainly jump all over a burnable Dolphins secondary; keeping their proverbial foot on the proverbial pedal seems increasingly unlikely.
The Bills, like the Eagles, will attack a defense's soft spot. It's no secret that that lies on the back end of the Miami defense. The Dolphins allow the league's third lowest rushing success rate against the rush and the tenth highest positive play rate against the pass. Only six teams allowed a higher drop back EPA than Miami in the regular season. Allen and Diggs -- with the tenth highest weighted opportunity rating among wideouts -- could make quick work of a Dolphins defense that ranks as the third most extreme pass funnel and has given up the eighth most yards per play (5.8) in road contests this season.
A blowout game script would necessarily mean Devin Singletary or James Cook see an inflated workload. Since Week 12, Singletary leads the team with a 40 percent rush share; Allen has accounted for 29 percent of the team's runs; and Cook sits at 24 percent. DFS players should monitor Isaiah McKenzie's status after the Bills slot wideout injured his hamstring in practice Thursday. A Friday missed practice for McKenzie could make Cole Beasley or Khalil Shakir the team's primary slot guy against Miami, and a low-cost stacking partner with Allen.
Tyreek Hill and/or Jaylen Waddle would see ample opportunities if Miami has to completely abandon the run early in this Wild Card game. While Hill is Miami's unquestioned alpha, he's struggling with an ankle issue and Waddle has had success against the Bills in two 2022 games, combining for seven catches and 216 yards in those contests. In Week 3 against the Bills, Waddle accounted for 55 percent of the team's receiving yards. Bottom-barrel rostership for the Dolphins receivers make them viable, if extremely risky, tournament options.
It's difficult to emphasize just how weird things would have to get if the Dolphins are going to play from ahead here. Thompson, with his pop-gun arm, has been miserable over the past two games, refusing to let it fly, as reflected in his adjusted yards per attempt of less than five.
Miami's offense could be utterly undone by the absence of LT Terron Armstead, battling various injuries and very unlikely to suit up this weekend. With Armstead on the field this season, the Dolphins have allowed a league average QB pressure rate. Without the stud left tackle, Miami is giving up an astounding 47 percent pressure rate, among the highest in the NFL. Thompson will have no time to operate in the pocket.
Raheem Mostert is iffy for this week with a thumb injury. His status could change the complexion of the running back position in Wild Card DFS contests; a Mostert absence would make Jeff Wilson less sensitive to game script and a lead back against a Buffalo defense that's been quietly susceptible to the run. The Bills are 12th in positive rush rate allowed. The Dolphins gashed the Bills on the ground in Week 15 to the tune of the week's highest rush EPA (136 yards on 17 carries with Wilson sidelined).
Wilson, by the way, has been efficient in 2022. He enters the postseason with the NFL's 13th highest yards after contact per rush.
I could see Mike McDaniel forcing the issue with the run here. It's the team's only path to muddying the waters and keeping the game close. With an offensive line graded by PFF as the NFL's seventh best run-blocking unit -- facing a Buffalo defense graded as the seventh worst run-stopping unit -- the Dolphins have an avenue, however narrow, to keeping the ball away from Allen and shortening the game against a vastly superior opponent.
Game Stack Ideas
Allen, Diggs, Waddle or Hill
Allen, Diggs, Knox or Davis, Waddle or Hill
Giants (+3) at Vikings
Giants implied total: 22.5
Vikings implied total: 25.5
If hyper-aggressive Giants defensive coordinator Wink Martindale can be slightly less aggressive here, Kirk Cousins could be in for a slog of a game. Cousins has excelled against the blitz this season and struggled when teams send four rushers and drop the rest of the defense in coverage. Cousins has 19 touchdowns and 10 picks when he has over 2.5 seconds in the pocket. He has 10 touchdowns and three interceptions when he gets the ball out in less than 2.5 seconds. If Cousins has to throw into seven and eight defenders in coverage, the Giants could force Kirk to go Full Cousins. You never go Full Cousins.
But for the sake of our chalky argument, one would have to stack the immobile Cousins with at least two of his pass catchers if one believes Cousins is going to carve up this New York secondary. Justin Jefferson and T.J. Hockensen, a duo that has accounted for 55 percent of the Vikings' targets since Week 10, would make sense here. There's also K.J. Osborn, whose price point offers salary cap relief if you're going in on Jefferson.
I've thought for four months that Dalvin Cook could provide enormous leverage against Jefferson-centric lineups. And I've been wrong for four months, partly because the Vikings are an unapologetically pass-first team and Cook is horribly inefficient. This matchup says Cook should have his way though. Only the heinous Chicago defense has allowed a higher rush EPA than the Giants since Week 10. Pro Football Focus rates New York as the fifth worst rush defense.
Saquon Barkley could very well be the optimal run-back with a Minnesota stack. Rostering Barkley and Jefferson, of course, is going to ruin your salary cap. Barkley's steadily increasing pass game involvement is what we're excited about here: He saw at least five targets in five of his last seven regular season outings and he faces a Minnesota defense allowing the 11th most running backs receptions per game (5.3).
Richie James has led the team in target share over the past month. The quick slot guy is Daniel Jones' primary dump-off option (he has an aDOT of less than seven in four of his past five games) and runs nearly every route in the New York offense. James caught eight of his 11 targets for 90 yards against the Vikings in Week 16. He led the team with 18.9 expected fantasy points that day.
This game has serious shootout potential, not just because these teams combined for 51 points and 883 yards in Week 16, but because both defenses can be shredded through the air and on the ground. Since Week 10, Minnesota has allowed the league's tenth highest EPA per play while the Giants have allowed the second highest EPA.
I struggle to label a Giants win -- or at least a game full of positive script for the G-people -- a truly strange scenario. They pushed these Vikings hard in their Week 16 meeting and Minnesota's defense is as vulnerable as any playing this weekend. Only the Lions and Bears allowed more yards per play than the Vikes in the regular season.
Minnesota would see a heavy dose of Barkley if the Giants get out to a lead. He has to be in any lineup that assumes positive game script for New York. Barkley and Daniel Jones enjoyed success on the ground a few weeks back against Minnesota, posting Week 16's third highest EPA per rush and the sixth highest rushing success rate. Maybe you could throw James into that kind of lineup too since his role is stable and the sort of targets he sees are highly bankable. Also, the Vikings are the NFL's fourth most extreme pass funnel defense.
I would caution against running it back with more than one Minnesota pass catcher. And yes, I understand that warning could look silly if this game shoots all the way out.
Game Stack Ideas
Cousins, Jefferson, Hockensen or Osborn, Barkley or James
Jones, James, Jefferson
Barkley, Hockensen or Jefferson
Ravens (+8.5) at Bengals
Bengals implied total: 24.5
Ravens implied total: 16
It's hardly a secret that the Bengals are going to lean on the pass against Baltimore's pass-funnel defense. That makes Ja'Marr Chase and Tee Higgins prime stacking candidates with Joe Burrow. I know, I'm not breaking news.
Facing these Ravens in Week 18, Chase posted the week's second highest implied fantasy point total among wideouts on his team-high 13 targets (eight catches for 86 yards and a touchdown). Chase has been a target magnet against the Ravens in 2022, seeing 25 throws from Burrow in two divisional matchups against Baltimore. Outside receivers have given the Ravens secondary fits throughout the season. Both Chase and Higgins play most of their snaps from the boundary.
Joe Mixon is going to be low-rostered, and rightfully so. Baltimore's rush defense is good and the Bengals have been well over their expected pass rate for most of the past two months. Mixon, however, could prove a DFS value with enough volume.
A lopsided Bengals win would position Mixon to see 20 touches, including all-important carries and targets inside the ten yard line. Mixon has seen 73 percent of the high value touches (targets plus carries inside the ten) in the Cincinnati backfield this season, the sixth highest rate among all running backs. Austin Ekeler and Jamaal Williams are the only backs with more touches inside the ten in 2022. That Baltimore has ranked as the league's sixth best rush defense, per EPA, might not matter if this game goes sideways in favor of the Bengals.
Without La'el Collins and facing an aggressive Ravens pass rush, there's a real chance the Bengals get conservative here and grind out a victory with far more rushing than usual.
And now for the run back -- and there's only one choice. Probably I'm too excited about Mark Andrews in a game that could see Anthony Brown under center for the Ravens (Tyler Huntley hadn't practiced this week as of Thursday). Maybe my unbridled excitement is warranted though. Like all Baltimore quarterbacks, Brown peppered his tight ends with targets in Week 18 against the Bengals. Ravens tight ends saw 41 percent of Brown's attempts. Isaiah Likely went off for eight catches and 103 yards on 13 targets. Garrett Wilson was the only pass catcher in the NFL with more expected fantasy points than Likely in Week 18. Yes, I double checked that.
Andrews' target share and air yards share are that of an alpha WR1, not a tight end. Two or three quarters of negative game script could generate an obscene number of targets for Andrews, no matter who's throwing passes for Baltimore.
The only conceivable way the Ravens can make things tight with the Bengals is to make this game as ugly as possible. That will include plenty of running with lead back J.K. Dobbins. Since Week 12, Dobbins has 57 carries, or 44 percent of the Ravens' rushing attempts. If Dobbins is going to get there for DFS purposes, he's going to need 15-18 carries and a touchdown or two. I'm not sure that's in the range of outcomes against a Cincinnati defense allowing the ninth lowest rate of positive run plays.
I don't think Gus Edwards, with a meager 28 percent of the Ravens' rushing attempts since Week 12, is worth playing even if we assume positive script for Baltimore. And neither Ravens running back sees enough pass game involvement to post usable stat lines without heavy rush volume and touchdown opportunities.
Chase and Higgins would be the natural run-back options if the Bengals find themselves chasing points against the astoundingly down-bad Ravens. Without Lamar Jackson, there's precious little chance of this fantasy environment generating tournament-winning volume for the Bengals wideouts.
Game Stack Ideas
Burrow, Chase and/or Higgins, Andrews
Cowboys (-2.5) at Bucs
Cowboys implied total: 24
Bucs implied total: 21.5
In what will be a home game in Tampa for Jerry's team, I guess the Cowboys are the favorite to impose their will on the Bucs Monday night. Count me (deeply) skeptical Mike McCarthy and Kellen Moore can call the kind of game that finishes off Tom Brady in the Wild Card round.
Dallas, as usual, wants to establish the run. They've been under their expected pass rate in six of their past seven games, all but refusing to open up the passing attack unless forced to do so. Dak Prescott's recent spate of interceptions could further spook McCarthy and Moore into an ultra-conservative game plan.
Ezekiel Elliott and Tony Pollard would see ample opportunity if the Cowboys are able to play this game as safely and afraid as possible against a pass-funnel Tampa defense. A mere six teams allow a lower rate of positive rush plays than the Bucs, so the matchup isn't exactly a pretty one for Pollard and Zeke. Pollard, the league leader in yards after contact per attempt, profiles as the far more explosive Dallas rushing option who could rip off a big run at any time. The Bucs in the regular season were middle of the road in long runs allowed.
Tampa's pass volume would balloon if the Cowboys get out to a lead and try like hell not to lose the game. The Bucs' recent commitment to the pass -- reminiscent of the way they operated on offense in 2020 and 2021 -- should work out well against a faltering Cowboys pass defense allowing the league's third highest yards per play since Week 12. Brady is done messing around with a balanced attack and the team's pass rate over expected confirms as much. The Bucs were 13 percent of their expected pass rate in Week 14; 5 percent over in Week 16; and 10 percent in Week 17.
The Bucs are uniquely positioned to neutralize Micah Parsons and the Dallas pass rush. Brady leads the NFL in his rate of passes in less than 2.5 seconds, and no QB has thrown for more yards on quick-hitting attempts this season. Tampa's offensive line should be at full health in the Wild Card round with Donovan Smith and Tristan Wirfs returning from injury. It likely won't matter that the Cowboys are among the NFL's best front fours.
Those quick hitters are sure to benefit Chris Godwin, Tampa's running backs, and other short-area pass catchers. I'm dubious of the Bucs letting Brady sit back for four or five seconds to allow Mike Evans' longer pass routes to develop. I'm confident we're not going to see a replay of Evans' nuclear performance against Carolina in Week 17.
Some coverage unit injuries and the Cowboys front four being unable to cover up the deficiencies on the Dallas back end has exposed the team's secondary over the past month. Teams are shredding Dallas through the air to the tune of the fifth highest EPA since Week 15. Such a phenomenon might call for Bucs mega-stacks in Wild Card DFS contests.
No one would label a Tom Brady Wild Card victory as a weird occurrence. Nevertheless, we persist. The Bucs aren't going to seize control of this game on the ground, though they could shift toward the run if they get up early. It would make sense against an exploitable Dallas run defense. The problem is that Rachaad White and Leonard Fournette are carving up backfield duties almost directly down the middle.
The two Tampa backs have split route running and targets as Brady's outlet options. Uncle Lenny has the edge in high value touches though, 55 percent to 43 percent for White. Lenny and his injured foot remain the team's preferred goal line option too. I would lean Fournette if I thought the Bucs are going to breeze to victory here.
CeeDee Lamb and Dalton Schultz are superb run-back options in a lineup based on a runaway pass-heavy script for Dak Prescott and company. Lamb is the unquestioned alpha in the Dallas offense and Schultz has a sneaky good matchup against a Tampa defense allowing the 12th most tight end receptions per game (4.53). Schultz grabbed seven of nine targets for 62 scoreless yards when these teams played in Week 1.
T. Y. Hilton, like corn, still has the juice. Hilton, in a small sample (35 routes), has the NFL's third highest yards per route run over the past three weeks. He's lined up in the slot on 39 percent of his routes while being eased into the Cowboys offense, and could see an increased role Monday night after impressing Dallas coaches with six catches for 69 yards in Week 17 and 18. Hilton's 28.5 percent target per route run rate suggests he's getting open and commanding looks from Prescott. An abandonment of the run by Dallas could make Hilton a fun little DFS option.
Game Stack Ideas
Brady, Godwin, Fournette, Lamb and Schultz or Hilton
Fournette or White, Lamb
Prescott, Lamb, Hilton or Schultz, Godwin or Evans