Welcome all to the Divisional Round DFS Early Preview! We have an exciting four-game slate with plenty of fantasy potential for what should be another entertaining weekend of playoff football. This article is meant to provide an introductory look at the upcoming slate as a starting point for research.
These types of slates are generally best suited for tournaments instead of cash games, but I’ll give my overall thoughts on relevant players that will help no matter what type of contest you are entering.
I believe there are two key things that are very important to succeeding on these types of slates. The primary thing is to accurately forecast gamescript. If we can correctly project how the games will be played out, we put ourselves in a better position to roster the ideal players that follow such gamescripts. Secondly, is finding one or two contrarian pieces to supplement our core of players. Finding those diamonds that are less than 5% owned and fading the bad chalk often decides the winners of these slates, while providing massive leverage on the field.
With that in mind, let’s dive right into this weekend’s Divisional Round slate.
Lamar Jackson, BAL – Jackson demolished during the regular season leading all quarterbacks in fantasy points per game and is a legitimate threat to hit the double-bonus (passing and rushing) against the Titans this week. Tennessee ranks 21st in Pass DVOA defense and has allowed 10-of-16 quarterbacks they’ve faced to throw for multiple scores against them. His rushing floor — 60+ yards in 11 of last 12 games — puts him in another stratosphere compared to the other quarterbacks. The only question when rostering him is whether or not you can hit on enough value plays to make his egregious salary worthy of paying up for this week.
Patrick Mahomes, KC – Mahomes comes in priced as the QB2 on both DraftKings and FanDuel, providing a $900 and $800 salary savings, respectively. He’ll square off against a shell of a secondary in Houston that finished the season 26th in Pass DVOA and allowed the fourth-most fantasy points to opposing quarterbacks. It’s a bit early to project ownership, but I’m assuming at this time that he’ll be the chalkiest quarterback as players gamestack this matchup heavily.
Deshaun Watson, HOU – Watson’s matchup isn’t nearly as good on paper as the other two listed above, but we just saw him accurately dissect one of the league’s top secondaries in Buffalo last week and the Texans will need him to play his best to keep pace in this week’s highest scoring matchup per Vegas (51-point game total). Houston is a 10-point dog here and we’ve already seen Watson perform well against this defense back in Week 6 where he scored three times (one passing, two rushing). He’s a solid salary saver on DK at just $6,700.
Contrarian Play: Russell Wilson, SEA – Priced as the QB4 on DK and QB5 on FD, Wilson offers some of the top value at the QB position while also playing in a plus matchup. Seattle enters this matchup as 3.5-point road dogs and will likely need to rely on Wilson heavily again this week given the state of their running backs. Wilson eclipsed the 300+ yard mark last week against the Eagles, and just as important, rushed the ball nine times for 45 yards. That versatility should pay off well here against a Packers secondary that can struggle at times downfield yet has the pass rush to force him out of the pocket and scramble.
Derrick Henry, TEN – Last week was a perfect storm of matchup and gamescript coming together for Henry to put up another late season gem of a stat line (34-182-1 rushing). Since Tennessee’s Week 11 bye, the Titans workhorse is averaging a robust 26.0 touches, 158.5 total yards, and 1.5 touchdowns per game over his last six outings. He’s failed to hit the 100-yard mark and end zone in just one of those six games, making him a tough to fade running back on a small four-game slate. That being said, the down game came during a Titans loss, so history could repeat itself here if the Titans get down early against the Ravens and are forced to pass out of necessity.
Dalvin Cook, MIN – Like Henry above, double-dipping with two of last week’s most successful backs makes sense again given their upcoming matchups. The 49ers defense ranks much better against the pass (No. 2 in DVOA) than the run (No. 11), and we’ve seen versatile backs like Cook find success by mixing rushes and quick passes to keep the chains moving. Gamescript questions also apply to Cook with the Vikings being 10-point road dogs, but Cook’s steady target volume (4.5 tgts/game) offers a solid floor for him in this matchup. He’s a cheaper value play on FD where he comes in less than Aaron Jones.
Aaron Jones, GB – Jones is priced up coming off a solid outing while Jamaal Williams was injured, but Williams is on track to make his return this week and return this backfield to a committee. That being said, Jones remains the “1A” here and the primary target for DFS purposes. He’s the Packers’ lead scoring back (19 touchdowns to 6), creates more 10+ runs (25 to 10), and possesses a greater target share (12% to 9%), edging Williams in multiple categories. That’s a terrific combination of categories to lead your team in while facing a run sieve like Seattle (26th in Rush DVOA defense). Multi-TD upside isn’t out of the question here for Jones.
Damien Williams, KC – Over the final two weeks to end the regular season, Williams returned to workhorse status for the Chiefs trolling fantasy owners with 38 total touches and averaging 24.8 FPPG. He draws a terrific matchup here against the Texans run defense that ranks 22nd in Rush DVOA defense and ended the regular season top-5 in fantasy points allowed to opposing backs. They’re notably also one of the worst teams at defending receiving backs — Williams’ bread and butter — with them ranking worst or second worst in receptions, receiving yards, and receiving touchdowns given up to opposing RBs. Houston also led the league in percentage of red zone drives ending in touchdowns at 70.6%. We saw the Chiefs offense flourish in last year’s postseason utilizing Williams heavily, accounting for 4 of KC’s 8 postseason touchdowns. Given his recent increased playing time, he stands to benefit greatly as both a rusher and receiver and is my favorite per-dollar RB play of the slate as a lock button.
Carlos Hyde, HOU – Hyde is always a risky running back play given that he can be scripted out at any moment, but with how terrible Bill O’Brien is at play calling, don’t be surprised if we see a 20+ touch outing from Hyde as the Texans attempt to slow things down. The Texans rank 22nd in pace during situation-neutral gamescripts (+/- six points). Houston enters as a 10-point dog but did win this matchup back in Week 6 (31-24) when Hyde rushed 26 times for 116 yards and a score. Hyde arguably could’ve scored multiple times in that outing, but Watson called his own number twice on a pair of short-yardage scores and threw a red zone pass to Duke Johnson. If fading this game and stacking another, Hyde is a terrific leverage piece that’s likely to get overlooked.
Contrarian Play: Mark Ingram, BAL – It’s difficult to project the Ravens losing at home to the Titans this week. If we want to put a contrarian spin on how they specifically win, why not introduce Ingram into the equation over Lamar Jackson passing/rushing touchdowns? Ingram’s lack of receiving (1.9 tgts per game) and recent injury status (sat out practice Tuesday) should lower ownership for the lead back on a team that’s implied to score four times (28.5-point team total currently). Ingram is already in the midst of a career-high touchdown season (15) with several multi-TD outings under his belt this year. He could easily add another such outing with multiple scores here given that the Titans allowed the eighth-most rushing scores in the regular season.
Davante Adams, GB – If looking for a pure target-driven DFS option, Adams has accrued 10+ targets in eight of his last nine games. He moves all over the formation for the Packers so won’t be facing any one specific corner of the Seahawks. Over their final eight games to close the regular season, Seattle ranked a very average 14th in fantasy points to slot receivers and 15th to perimeter wideouts. No matter where Adams lines up this week, he should excel en route to a solid fantasy outing with price being the only concern.
Tyreek Hill, KC – Hill torched the Houston defensive backs in Week 6 in his previous encounter with them, hauling in 5-of-10 targets for 80 yards and a score. That was his first game back from a five-week injury hiatus and he only played on 51% of the offensive snaps. Hill now will be playing a full complement of snaps against a secondary that’s ranked 26th against the pass and finished top-12 in fantasy points to opposing perimeter and slot receivers. With multiple starting corners for Houston battling hamstring injuries, don’t be surprised if Hill breaks a long one this week.
DeAndre Hopkins, HOU – The Texans successfully got Hopkins going last week despite tough coverage from Tre’Davious White. He caught all four of his targets against White for 70 yards (41.9% routes shadowed), while finishing with a final receiving stat line of 6-90-0. It’s another tough matchup for Hopkins this week with Kansas City limiting opposing wideouts to the fewest receptions against all year. He was held to short completions last time he faced this squad (9-55-0 on 12 targets) but did convert a two-point conversion. I think he makes sense if going with a Texans stack, but if not rostering Watson, I’d have a tough time clicking his name at his high price points on both sites.
D.K. Metcalf, SEA – Following last week’s slate-breaking 7-160-1 performance, Metcalf has leapfrogged teammate Tyler Lockett and is now the more expensive Seattle receiver on both sites. Metcalf draws another beatable matchup on the perimeter where he’ll most likely be shadowed by the bigger Packers corner, Kevin King. King has historically tracked the taller receivers that Green Bay has faced this season but has been rather inconsistent defending them. He’s given up the fifth-most yardage among all corners (842 yards) and allowed a 4-to-5 TD:INT ratio. The Packers also rank 9th in pass plays of 20+ yards and 13th in touchdowns on such plays. King’s side of the field (RCB 80% of the time) has allowed the eighth-most fantasy points to LWR’s. Metcalf has seen 77-of-100 targets running routes from the left side of the formation. It sets up well for a vertical guy like Metcalf (13.0 aDOT) who can pick up yardage in big chunks. After lock-buttoning him last week, I’m going right back to the well with Metcalf again in the Divisional Round.
Deebo Samuel, SF – Samuel’s target volume is far from consistent, but he’s a solid midrange value play this week given the other options priced near him. He’s either hit the century mark and/or the end zone in six of his last eight games while commanding a 20% target share during that span. He also carries some rare rushing upside — 3-28-1, 2-33-1 last two games — to help raise his fantasy floor. His matchup on the perimeter where he runs 75% of his routes is a plus this week as he squares off against Xavier Rhodes and Trae Waynes, two corners we’ve picked on all season given the yardage and touchdowns they’ve allowed to opposing wideouts.
Marquise Brown, BAL – The top YOLO play of the slate, Brown has turned into an all-or-nothing type of receiver at this juncture given his limited target volume. Brown’s another receiver that moves all over the field for his team (62% perimeter, 38% slot), but has big-play ability in spades here. Unfortunately, he’s only cleared five targets once in the past nine games. He’s an incredibly thin play best suited for tournaments, but with the Titans likely prioritizing stopping the run game, he could be left in some one-on-one matchups with the ability to take any reception to the house.
Contrarian Play: Allen Lazard, GB – It’s still early in the week, but I think the ideal build this week has us flexing a third running back. As such, we’re going to need to save some salary and Lazard provides that while also offering solid target volume. He’s quietly totaled 17 targets the past two weeks of the regular season and regularly gets involved in the red zone. Since Week 7 when he started playing at least 40% of the offensive snaps, Lazard ranks second in both red zone and end zone targets among all Packers skill position players. Lazard could easily pick up steam as a punt option as we approach the weekend, but 8+ targets against a beatable Seattle secondary is something I’m interested in gaining exposure to this week.
Travis Kelce – If paying up at the tight end position, it’s difficult to not look in Kelce’s direction. The Texans have struggled defending the tight end this year, ranking inside the top-12 in fantasy points given up to the position. Safety Tashaun Gipson, who was generally assigned to guard the position, was placed on IR prior to last week’s game. The Texans will now try to limit one of the league’s top receiving tight ends with a backup safety in Gipson’s place. Good luck.
George Kittle, SF – I’d rather find the minimal cost difference to climb up to Kelce, but Kittle’s also a solid play in his own right this week. Kittle’s 28% target share leads all tight ends on the year and all 49ers skill position players. He’s the primary receiver in this offense and we’ve seen the Vikings give up some receptions to opposing tight ends this season (eighth-most). We generally see the 49ers use the pass to supplement the run, and if they follow the gamescript that Vegas projects them to have as 7-point home favorites, Kittle should find himself in plus situations to rack up efficient passing plays in this matchup.
Mark Andrews, BAL – The Ravens’ target leader, Andrews should once again be Lamar Jackson’s primary receiving option in what looks like a plus matchup for the breakout tight end. The Titans rank seventh in receiving yards, fourth in receiving touchdowns, and sixth in overall fantasy points to opposing tight ends this year. Andrews has 16 targets over the final two games with three touchdowns during that span. His 10 touchdowns this year doubled Kittle and Kelce and his 2.89 Yards per Route Run set a PFF-era record. He enters this matchup with a “Questionable” tag, so monitor for updates throughout the week.
Contrarian Play: Darren Fells, HOU – If Jordan Akins misses this week again, look for Fells to build upon last week’s success. He played on 66-of-69 snaps while the secondary tight end, Jordan Thomas, played on only eight snaps. Kansas City ranks top-5 in receptions, targets, receiving yards, and fantasy points allowed to opposing tight ends. With Fells coming off a five-target outing, he’s a solid value play this week if we get news Akins is ruled out again given this plus matchup.
San Francisco DST – The 49ers could be getting back Kwon Alexander, Dee Ford, and Jaquiski Tartt to provide help at all three levels of the defense this week. That would provide a massive swing as it not only helps provide pressure on Kirk Cousins and his offensive line, it also gives them key players to defend the pass with Kwon coming in as PFF’s No. 9 graded linebacker in coverage and Tartt being a perennial shutdown safety against opposing tight ends. Cousins has three games this season where he’s taken five or more sacks and the 49ers aren’t afraid to dial up the blitz on third downs. 49ers DST is simply priced far too cheap on DK at just $3,000 and should be the chalk play there.
Kansas City DST – On FanDuel, I’d pivot down $400 and save some money by targeting the Chiefs defense. Deshaun Watson is no stranger to taking sacks behind that porous offensive line and is coming off a 7-sack outing last week in the Wildcard Round against Buffalo. The Chiefs ended the year top-12 in both sacks (45) and takeaways (23). Watson has routinely struggled with pressure this year, facing it on 37.9% of his dropbacks, a top-7 rate among qualifying quarterbacks. A Damien Williams/KC DST stack won’t break the bank and provides solid upside.
Good luck this week!