During the playoffs, I will highlight a few of my favorite fantasy starts at each position,
Patrick Mahomes vs. Steelers – Mahomes has got to be the favorite to lead all quarterbacks in fantasy points over Wild Card weekend. Pittsburgh’s pass defense has played much better in recent weeks as the backbone of the whole team, but the Steelers are 13th out of 14 playoff teams in opponent plays per game while the Chiefs are fourth in plays per game and fifth in yards per play among the 14 offenses to qualify for the postseason. Kansas City is also implied to score a Wild Card Round-high 29.25 points as massive 12.5-point home favorites. On DraftKings, Mahomes is priced $400 below Josh Allen and $100 back from Allen on FanDuel.
Dak Prescott vs. 49ers – Prescott was Week 18’s offensive player of the week after he shredded the Eagles’ backup defense for 295 yards and a season-high five touchdowns, setting the Cowboys’ franchise record with 37 touchdown passes on the season. Over the season’s final three weeks, Prescott posted a sparkling 12:0 TD:INT mark. He’s coming into the postseason playing some of his best football of the season. The 49ers were a middling 14th in fantasy points allowed to quarterbacks in the regular season, but they were 30th in opponent completion percentage and 25th in opponent pass rating. Dallas is No. 1 in offensive plays per game and third in yards per play among the 14 playoff teams. This game sports a hefty 51-point total and will be played in the friendly dome confines of AT&T Stadium. The Cowboys are implied to score 27 points as three-point home favorites. Prescott is the fifth-highest priced quarterback on FanDuel and sixth-highest priced passer on DraftKings.
Jalen Hurts at Bucs – Hurts was rested in Week 18 against the Cowboys, so he’s had two weeks to give his ankle even more of a break after he’s been playing with an injury for several weeks. His rushing volume was down some Weeks 14-17. But Hurts now gets a date with a Bucs defense that was 24th in fantasy points allowed to quarterbacks during the regular season, surrendering the fourth-most rushing yards to the position. Hurts faced Tampa Bay way back in Week 6 and rushed for two touchdowns that Thursday night, posting a line of 10-44-2 on the ground. He also threw for a third score as fantasy’s overall QB5 that week. The Bucs typically force opposing offenses to ramp up the pace. Philly is an 8.5-point underdog this weekend. Hurts’ ceiling is extremely high in a game the Eagles could be chasing points against a vulnerable pass defense. Hurts is a value on DraftKings as the eighth-highest priced QB.
Joe Mixon vs. Raiders – Mixon is the most expensive running back on the slate, but his workload is as secure as anyone’s with the Bengals installed as touchdown favorites at home. Mixon has resumed workhorse duties in recent weeks and cleared COVID protocols days ago after missing Week 18, a game he wasn’t going to be active for anyway. The Raiders are coming off a knock-down, drag-out slugfest with the Chargers last Sunday night where both teams were visibly gassed by the end of the overtime thriller. It wouldn’t be surprising to see Vegas come out flat after that one. When the Bengals and Raiders met back in Week 11, Mixon handled a season-high 30 carries for 123 yards and a pair of touchdowns in a 19-point win. Mixon was fantasy’s overall RB3 that week. As the foundation of the Cincinnati offense, Mixon will be a cash-game staple in DFS as a top-two running back play with Leonard Fournette.
Leonard Fournette vs. Eagles – Fournette missed the final three weeks of the season with a hamstring strain but returned to practice this week and is fully expected to be back out there for the start of the playoffs. Ronald Jones (ankle) remains sidelined, so one should expect Fournette to definitely reclaim his workhorse role after finishing the year as fantasy’s overall RB7 in half-PPR points per game. There’s little reason to expect Fournette to handle fewer than 18-20 touches. He runs a bunch of routes as Tampa Bay’s best pass-catching back. The Eagles surrendered the 10th-most fantasy points to running backs during the season and allowed the second-most catches to Fournette’s position. When these two teams met back in Week 6, Fournette handled a season-high 22 rushing attempts and caught all six of his targets, totaling 127 yards and a pair of touchdowns. At $5900, Fournette is way too cheap on DraftKings. The Bucs have the NFC’s highest implied team total this week at 28.75 points.
Darrel Williams vs. Steelers – Clyde Edwards-Helaire (shoulder) was downgraded to “DNP” Thursday after getting in a limited practice Wednesday. He missed the final two games of the regular season and looks to be on the wrong side of questionable for the Wild Card Round. Meanwhile, after Williams (toe) left Week 18 early, he’s been practicing this week. With CEH out in Week 17, Williams played 80% of the snaps against the Bengals and totaled 117 yards and two touchdowns on 17 touches. He’s a workhorse when Edwards-Helaire is out and has a pretty high ceiling in the Kansas City offense on 15-plus touches. The Steelers were 26th in fantasy points allowed to running backs during the year, and Williams totaled 85 yards on 14 touches across just 42% of the snaps versus Pittsburgh in Week 16. If CEH is out, Williams is an auto-play at $5500 on DraftKings. The Chiefs are implied to score 29.25 points.
Tee Higgins vs. Raiders – Higgins had a slow first 10 weeks or so, but he turned it on in a big way over the final six weeks as fantasy’s overall WR4 in half-PPR points per game across Weeks 12-17. Higgins went over 100 yards in four of those six games and caught four touchdowns. He played at least 83% of the snaps in three straight games to close out the year after accomplishing that feat just once across the first 14 weeks. Vegas is 21st in pass-defense DVOA and 12th out of 14 playoff teams in opponent plays per game. Cincinnati’s implied team total of 27.75 points is the third-highest of the Wild Card Round. Higgins was second on the Bengals in red-zone targets with 11 this season, trailing rookie phenom Ja’Marr Chase’s 12. Higgins is $1100 cheaper than teammate Chase on DraftKings and has a similar ceiling.
Amari Cooper vs. 49ers – Cooper voiced his frustration for the lack of targets and scoring looks on multiple occasions later in the year, but he still led the Cowboys with 17 red-zone targets and caught eight touchdowns, including three over the final five weeks. After a 139-yard, two-touchdown Week 1, Cooper had just one 100-yard game the rest of the season. The big games we have been accustomed to seeing from Cooper throughout his career just weren’t there, even if he did have a productive 68-865-8 year. The 49ers were 19th in fantasy points allowed to wide receivers and 22nd in catches surrendered to the position during the regular season. They’ve been playing shorthanded in the secondary seemingly all year and will now have to contend with CeeDee Lamb, Cooper, and Cedrick Wilson for the Cowboys. Among the 14 playoff teams, Dallas is first in plays per game and third in yards per play. Cooper should have a floor of 7-8 targets with an outside shot at double-digit looks.
Christian Kirk at Rams – DeAndre Hopkins (knee, I.R.) has already been ruled out for this one. In his absence Weeks 15-17, Kirk saw target counts of 12, 9, and 9 while playing well over 90% of the snaps as the de facto No. 1 receiver without Hopkins. Kirk caught just three passes against L.A. back in Week 14 but averaged over 28 yards per grab. Cardinals-Rams has a 50-point total Monday night and will be played in the SoFi Stadium dome. These two teams produced 57 and 53 points in their previous two matchups this year. And among the 14 playoff teams, the Rams are dead last in opponent plays per game. They allowed the fourth-most catches to opposing wideouts this season. Kirk is a mere $5300 on DraftKings.
Rob Gronkowski vs. Eagles – Chris Godwin tore his ACL in Week 15. In four games without Godwin to close out the year, Gronkowski saw double-digit targets three times. He closed out the year with back-to-back, seven-catch games for 115 and 137 yards. With Godwin and Antonio Brown now gone, Tom Brady has to rely on Gronkowski and Mike Evans even more in the pass game. And the Eagles have been dreadful against tight ends this year, allowing the most touchdowns, most catches, and second-most fantasy points to the position. Gronkowski missed the Week 6 matchup between these two teams, but O.J. Howard went 6-49-1 on seven targets in his absence. Those were all season-bests for Howard. Gronk is the TE1 this week.
Dallas Goedert at Bucs – Following the trade of Zach Ertz to the Cardinals prior to Week 7, Goedert became the Eagles’ top pass-game target. He was fantasy’s overall TE6 across Weeks 7-18 with 62-plus yards in five of those nine games played and a pair of 100-yard games over the final four weeks. Like the Eagles, the Bucs have also struggled to cover tight ends, allowing the sixth-most catches to the position. At $4500, Goedert is way too cheap on DraftKings as the slate’s eighth-most expensive tight end. He’s a top-four tight end play this week.
Zach Ertz at Rams – Like Christian Kirk above, Ertz has been a big beneficiary in the wake of DeAndre Hopkins’ knee injury. In the four games with Hopkins out to end the season, Ertz saw target counts of 11, 13, 9, and 10 while averaging seven catches per contest. Ertz isn’t going to put up big yards or make much happen after the catch, but he’s a favorite of Kyler Murray in the red zone and when he needs to move the chains. Ertz has been in on over 90% of the snaps the last four weeks and catches a date with a Rams defense that is dead last in opponent plays per game among the 14 playoff teams. L.A. allowed the 11th-most catches to tight ends during the regular season.