Much like prime-time slates, playoff NFL DFS is not the time to play scared – it’s the time to be bold. Believe in your process, trust your instincts, and then let the cards fall where they may. That was my advice all year during my “Prime Time Process” pod and that’s my advice to you now. I think it’s important to win (or lose) on your own terms. Do it your way.
With that in mind, here are some of my thoughts and convictions for the divisional round…
Note: My analysis is much heavier on running back because I think it’s imperative to get that position right on this slate.
After much internal debate, I will likely split my quarterback exposure to Patrick Mahomes and Drew Brees. However, I feel a lot more comfortable keeping the PMR open for the Sunday night hammer, especially since I’m expecting the Saints to buck their regular season trend of playing ball-control offense and expect them to deploy an aerial assault against the Eagles overmatched secondary. If the Saints can keep pressure off Brees (looking at you Terron Armstead), then I expect the Saints to throttle the Eagles.
Core: Drew Brees, Patrick Mahomes
Thoughts on Andrew Luck – I like Luck if the Chiefs offense can score early and often, but I have a suspicion that the Colts will try to control the ball and ram it down the Chiefs’ throat – which would lead to a perfect game script for Marlon Mack and their mauling offensive line led by Quinton Nelson. If they are successful and Mack scores 1-2 TDs then Luck’s ceiling is much lower than Mahomes.
Bottom line: While I like Mahomes, Luck, and Brees I think Mahomes and Brees offer the most upside.
Jared Goff has not played well as of late, especially when under pressure, but he’s interesting at his price. If he can hit 300 yards and two TDs you’ll probably be in pretty good shape if you use the savings correctly at other positions. While the Cowboys defense has been incredibly strong all year, they are a different team on the road. I think the Rams could control this game and if they do – Goff and Gurley make an intriguing stack and a possible avenue to soak up all of the Rams touchdowns.
Todd Gurley – One of the toughest decisions on the slate is choosing which stud running back you want: Todd Gurley or Ezekiel Elliott – or both.
TGIII > Zeke – While I think both running backs are elite plays, due to their bell-cow workload, I think the Rams have a chance to steamroll the Cowboys in this game. See Jared Goff. While Zeke should still eat and has proven to be game flow agnostic, Todd Gurley offers the most touchdown upside, especially if the Rams can get an early lead by forcing Dak to turn the ball over. Whenever TGIII has been healthy, he was the first guy to jam into your lineups, and usually, he would be 9-10k. Now, he is coming off a month of rest and will be the freshest he’s been since Week 1. Pro Football Doc believes that Gurley could’ve played the last couple of weeks despite experiencing some inflammation in his knee, but the Rams wanted to rest their stud for the playoffs. Gurley looked explosive in practice and his teammates, including Sean McVay, have said he looks great.
Bottom line: TGIII + Rams defense is one of my favorite stacks this week.
Alvin Kamara – October 8th, 2016 – Alvin Kamara put the Tennessee Volunteers on his back against Myles Garrett and the undefeated Texas A&M Aggies – nearly beating them single-handedly with over 300 total yards and three TDs in a thrilling two overtime thriller. While the Volunteers lost that game, I couldn’t help but feel that it was much more than that – the foreshadowing of a new breed of running back and an unveiling of a future king. Alvin Kamara showed the world that day, and more specifically Sean Payton, that he needed a playmaker like Kamara to get back to the Super Bowl.
Kamara is the late game hammer who can win you all the week’s riches. Also, he’s cheaper than both Gurley and Zeke, so it’s not hard to fit him in your lineup (my favorite flex). I expect Kamara to be the focal point of the Saints aerial assault and could rack up 10-15 targets in a hurry. While he only had one target (albeit he caught it for a long TD up the sideline) during the Eagles-Saints regular season matchup, I think the playoffs will be a much different version of the Saints. I don’t think Payton takes his foot off the gas until the clock hits all zeros. My favorite Saints stacks are Brees + Kamara or Brees + Kamara + Ginn (or MT). Bringing it back is a bit trickier, but I prefer Alshon Jeffery, Golden Tate, or Nelson Agholor to Zach Ertz.
Maybe I’m being too dramatic for playoff DFS, but I want you to see the big picture: When the lights come on and the season is on the line, Brees and Payton will funnel their offense through #KingKamara.
Paeno’s Prediction: 200+ total yards, two TDs
Damien Williams – While Williams is expected to be uber chalky, his price is far too soft and his role too valuable. He will likely be in my core lineups, but he does have some risk without really knowing the status of Spencer Ware. If Ware does not suit up, then Damien Williams becomes the best value play on the slate and an easy lock-button. However, if Ware is healthy, he could vulture valuable touches, especially near the end zone. Andy Reid has a soft spot for Ware and he trusts him. Regardless, I am not so sure Ware will play though and even if he does, how effective will he be? I really want to get more news to feel comfortable with upping or reducing my exposure to Williams.
James White – I will probably end up with a lot of James White in lineups that don’t have Damien Williams. White is a couple hundred less and is an easy pivot. White’s ceiling took a hit when Rex Burkhead returned, but I think he’s clearly the best way to attack the Chargers defense. Kevin Duffy, the Patriots beat writer, summed it up perfectly: “In the past decade, only one team has given up more receiving yards to opposing running backs than the Los Angeles Chargers.” While I’m not certain the past decade is entirely relevant, I do think that it makes a lot of sense for Tom Brady to get the ball out quick against the Chargers defense – mitigating an uber-talented pass-rushing duo of Joey Bosa and Melvin Ingram and side-stepping the other Chargers strength – their elite secondary.
Bottom line: I believe White has a high floor and will see 12+ targets in this game. I think he offers a slightly higher ceiling and a much safer floor than his teammate, Michel.
Underweight, but probably not a full fade:
Marlon Mack, Colts D – I think there is a scenario, albeit not the most likely, where the Chiefs turn the ball over early and Mack, running behind Quentin Nelson and company, steamroll the Chiefs soft run defense to the result of a two-score lead. However, Mack’s floor is shaky for his price tag on DK due to his underwhelming usage in the passing game. While Mack does catch a couple passes here and there, he has only caught more than two once all season – which was in Week 17, where he caught three passes for -1 yard. Which leads to my next point – Mack only catches dump-off passes, which is clear when considering he only has 0.56 yards per route run. To give you an idea how low that is Nyheim Hines has a Y/RR of 1.22. One thing Mack has going for him is he is at least running routes (25 last week) which again gives him a higher floor than Sony Michel (although you must pay nearly 1k more) I don’t think he offers enough in the passing game to be overweight on him. I prefer Gurley, Zeke, Kamara, Williams, James White etc.
Sony Michel – It’s hard for me to envision the Chargers putting up too much of a fight in Foxboro with how bad Phillip Rivers has looked recently and Melvin Gordon who is essentially playing on zero healthy knees and one healthy ankle. The Patriots defensive game plan should be to blitz the shit out of Rivers – just like the Ravens did. For those reasons, I think the game script sets up well for a Sony Michel-Patriots defense stack, especially with how thin the Chargers are in the interior of their defense (playing dime and 6-7 DB’s).
BUT – after digging into Michel’s passing game usage, or lack thereof, I was quickly reminded that he isn’t an optimal play. Unlike Mack, he’s not even running routes. So, I asked myself the following questions:
Which makes you want to play Sony Michel less?
- Running fewer routes than James Develin.
- Running fewer routes than Rex Burkhead despite playing in five more games.
- Both 1 and 2.
- Both 1 and 2 plus getting TD vultured at the GL by Develin or Burkhead.
Summary: Fringe play or pivot
Other considerations: Austin Ekeler – With Gordon severely banged up, the Chargers best option is to utilize Ekeler. However, there’s a good chance that they both just cannibalize each other’s production. Rex Burkhead – I think Burkhead has a better chance at a TD than Hines and should offer lower ownership. Fringe play and probably best suited for larger fields. Nyheim Hines – Bounce back spot after burning many with a donut last week. Should have a much better game script this week.
As I noted before, most of my attention and study has been focused on the big picture of this slate and I believe it starts and ends with getting the running backs right. While there are slate breaking receivers available on this slate – such as Michael Thomas, Tyreek Hill, and TY Hilton – I will gladly choose the slate breaking running backs every time. That is why I prefer to pay down at receiver and try to hit on some of the cheaper pieces from the passing game.
Robert Woods – Should be extremely chalky given his price but has a high floor for cash games. I think it’s likely that he can haul in six balls and a possible touchdown, but I don’t think he’s going to offer much leverage in tournaments.
Josh Reynolds – A cheaper, albeit less talented, Cooper Kupp. Not someone to go all in on, but I think he arguably has the best matchup of the Rams receivers and a decent chance at scoring a touchdown. His price range seems like an important one to hit on, so probably best to spread out your exposure.
Dontrelle Inman – Cheap way to get exposure to the Colts offense if you want to pay up elsewhere. Has a great rapport with Luck and knowledge of the offense from previous years with the coaching staff. Solid possession receiver and arguably the best passing game red zone option the Colts have outside of Ebron.
Ted Ginn – see Drew Brees. I’ve been chomping at the bit to play Ginn whenever he returned and I’m not backing off now. Brees loves targeting Ginn deep, especially in New Orlean’s fast-track dome. Before Ginn went down, he had a thirty-one percent market share of air yards, which is sixth best out of the receivers on this slate – which includes teammate Michael Thomas (thirty percent ms air). Another reason to love Ginn is that he fits like a glove in Saints stacks with Brees and Kamara – and could provide leverage over those jamming in Michael Thomas.
Michael Thomas is a phenomenal play against the Eagles secondary, but I’m likely going to end up with a lot more Kamara than Thomas. Regardless, MT has slate breaking upside and obviously a great stack with Brees.
Finding the right Eagles to run it back:
I think it’s important to explain my process and why I’m so intent on finding the correct Eagles receiver. Normally, Zach Ertz would be the ideal way to run it back, especially when he is expected to go under-owned, due to Travis Kelce and Eric Ebron seeing much heavier ownership. However, the Saints have been incredibly tough against the tight end position – allowing the 27th most fantasy points to opposing tight ends. Additionally, the Saints eliminated Ertz earlier in the season by playing him physical at the line of scrimmage and blanketing him in coverage with frequent double teams. It’s hard to wrap my mind around how Ertz could only draw three targets and manage two catches for 15 yards in a game where the Eagles were down the entire game and lost 48-7. Maybe the Eagles have a better game plan and if they do, Ertz could be on the winning lineups, but I don’t think it’s likely. Probably more of a pivot than a core play for me.
Mixing in one of the following Eagles receivers:
Alshon Jeffery – I want to have at least one Eagles receiver to run back my Saints stacks and I think Alshon Jeffery might correlate the best in a potential Saints onslaught. Nick Foles has been locking in on Jeffery, especially downfield and I think he has the best chance of any Eagles offensive player to score a touchdown. Last week, Jeffery impressed against an elite Bears defense, managing to haul in six passes on nine targets. While I do think Marshon Lattimore could potentially shadow Jeffery – it’s not enough for me to fade him, especially since Jeffery tends to win in contested situations and jump balls – and not relying on separation.
Golden Tate – Again, my process is trying to spread my exposure to Eagles receivers in my Saints stacks and I think Golden Tate makes some sense. While Tate’s floor is scary and his usage has been hard to predict ever since being traded to the Eagles, he came on strong when it mattered. He was low-key the offensive MVP last week in the Eagles do-or-die victory over the Bears. He caught what was an incredibly difficult contested catch deep up the middle of the field before getting blasted by the defender – setting up a potential touchdown. He trailed only Alshon Jeffery (nine) for Eagles targets last week with eight and managed to haul in five of them, including one for a touchdown. Another thing working in Tate’s favor is his matchup. Saints slot corner, P.J. Williams, has been one of PFF’s worst rated corners all season long – the Eagles would be wise to target Tate on quick hitting passes early and often. That’s probably the best way to move the chains for the Eagles offense and keep the pressure off Foles.
Nelson Agholor should be overlooked either and will likely try to mix him and Tate in different lineups. I think one of them goes off, but I’m not confident which one.
Other considerations: Chris Hogan (very cheap, saw 11 targets last week, but draws a terrible matchup and has been impossible to trust all year), Cordarelle Patterson (One lineup play in MME, definitely a threat to score whenever he has the ball in his hands), Tavon Austin – More of a gut call here and wouldn’t recommend playing him in more than one lineup in MME. Could see a bump in usage with no Allen Hurns and a hobbled Cole Beasley – who suffered what seems to be a high-ankle sprain. Revenge game factor is in play I suppose. I think the Cowboys must get creative if they want to keep up with the Rams and Austin could be a sneaky part of their game plan. Does he offer more upside than Noah Brown? In all likelihood, neither of them offer enough upside to get you excited. Demarcus Robinson or Chris Conley provide cheap exposure if Watkins ends up more of a decoy or not playing. Mike Wallace – a deep sleeper of the Eagles receivers and seems likely to return. His floor is obviously zero, but the Eagles desperately need a deep threat and Wallace only needs one deep target to pay off his minimum price. Too early to put him in any lineups, but someone to keep an eye on for Sunday night pivots.
Travis Kelce – The best tight end in the NFL and easily the favorite to score the most raw points at the position. Ownership will be extremely high, so unless Kelce has a monster 30-point game, fading him shouldn’t kill you. However, he is the best tight end in the NFL, has one of the best matchups, and plays in what is expected to be a shootout. The Colts play the most zone defense in the NFL, which in theory – bodes better for Kelce than Tyreek Hill. He is one of the toughest decisions on this slate.
Eric Ebron – While he has seen his usage dip a bit – due to battling nagging injuries – he is an integral part of the Colts offense and their primary red zone weapon. He is easier to fit in your lineups than Kelce and if the Colts have any success via the air, Ebron should be a big part of that. The only real way I see Ebron busting is if this game total goes under.
Gerald Everett – The Cowboys are a soft matchup for opposing tight ends and could potentially funnel targets to Everett with how strong the Cowboys secondary is – but his floor is zero and his ceiling is maybe 15.
Ben Watson – I never anticipated writing about old man Watson, but there really isn’t any viable cheap tight ends on this slate besides Gerald Everett or maybe hoping to luck into a Dallas Goedert TD. Watson is a little sneaky in this spot at home and in what he has announced will be his last season. He started off being a bigger part of the offense at the beginning of the season, but I think the Saints may have purposefully tried to save his legs for the home stretch. If he can haul in a touchdown and a deep target, he’ll smash value and likely be nearly unowned. Everyone in New Orleans loves Ben Watson and I think that he could even get a sympathy target or two if the Saints start to really pull ahead at the end of the game.
Joe Paeno is a contrarian with a growth mindset. During the “offseason” he spends all of his free time grinding film, pouring over statistics, and looking for edges for the upcoming season. From March to August he leverages those edges for best ball leagues – which he has been profitable three years in a row and has averaged a 64.5% ROI over the last two.
Once the season begins, he uses his naturally contrarian mindset to find low owned DFS tournament plays. In 2018, he broke down the primetime slates for TQE subscribers with his podcast “Prime Time Process” and brought in a 38.57% ROI.