Welcome all to the NFL Conference Championship DFS Early Preview! We have finally reached the last multi-game NFL slate of the 2019-2020 season and have two exciting games on tap with the Chiefs hosting the Titans and the 49ers taking on the Packers. This article is meant to provide an introductory look at the upcoming slate as a starting point for research.
These types of short 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 low-owned diamonds and fading bad chalk that duds often decides the winners of these slates, providing massive leverage on the field.
Let’s dive right in.
Patrick Mahomes, KC – Mahomes enters this matchup red-hot coming off a ridiculous outing where he threw for 321 passing yards and five touchdowns. His matchup this week isn’t poor by any means, with the Titans ranking 21st in Pass DVOA defense and allowing the seventh-most passing yards during the regular season. Teams often lean on attacking the Titans through the air with opponents passing on them at a 61.4% clip during the regular season — fourth-highest rate in the league. Mahomes is substantially priced up as the QB1 on both sites but offers an immense ceiling surpassing 30+ DK points in five outings so far this year.
Ryan Tannehill, TEN – Since being anointed starter, Tannehill averaged a ridiculous 22.5 FPPG from Week 7 – Week 17 as the fantasy QB2 and will likely see his number called a bit more often this week given the high-scoring nature of the Chiefs. The game projects for a 52-point game total and we should see Tannehill get back to some of his aggressive downfield throwing. He threw for two scores when these squads previously faced off in Week 10, totaling 19.94 DK points. The Titans leaned heavily on Derrick Henry in that outing (more on him in a bit), and likely will do so again. If that’s the case, we should anticipate another highly efficient outing from Tannehill that sprinkles in both aggressive deep shots and some rushing upside to make him a sound investment at the QB position this week that won’t break the bank.
Contrarian Play: Jimmy Garoppolo – The NFC side of things is a bit more difficult to project, but I’d be fine taking the savings with Garoppolo as the cheapest QB play on both DraftKings and FanDuel. I did a study earlier in the offseason that revealed favored quarterbacks in close spreads (+/- 7 points) tend to do much better than their counterparts that are underdogs. The 49ers’ line is right on that mark (-7, -7.5 depending where you look) and the matchup for Garoppolo is somewhat middling with the Packers ranking 10th in Pass DVOA defense. Green Bay coasted to the No. 2 seed having finished their regular season with matchups against NYG, WAS, CHI, MIN, and DET. However, in Weeks 1-12, the Packers were top-10 in passing yards allowed while giving up a 91.4 QB Rating to opposing passers. Garoppolo finished the regular season 12th in passing yards and 8th in QB Rating (102.0). If the 49ers offensive line (15th in Adjusted Sack Rate, 6.9%) can hold back the duo of Preston Smith and Za’Darius Smith (two sacks each in the Divisional Round), Garoppolo could end up with a strong fantasy outing if the 49ers pivot from short-yardage rushing scores to passing touchdowns.
Derrick Henry, TEN – Henry has absolutely dominated these playoffs, rushing for 34-182-1 and 30-195-0 the past two weeks. He even threw a passing touchdown this past weekend for fun. His matchup this week is another exploitable one with him taking on the Chiefs’ run defense (29th Rush DVOA defense). They gave up the fourth-most fantasy points to the RB position during the regular season and the eighth-most rushing yards. They also allowed the fifth-most rushes of 5+ yards and sixth-most rushes of 10+ yards — two categories that Henry led the league in this year. For those still unconvinced, he torched the Chiefs for 23-188-2 when they previously faced each other in Week 10. He’s a building block and core piece that I won’t be fading.
Damien Williams, KC – Williams was 48% owned in last week’s Milly Maker as the highest-owned running back on the four-game slate. Given the lackluster increase in price this week, don’t be surprised if he eclipses the 70% mark as the chalk RB play of the week. He’s the type of chalk that I think you just eat and move on given his combination of snaps, touches, and scoring equity. The yardage and touch totals may have been missing last week in a shootout with Houston, but three total touchdowns left Williams owners satisfied with his performance. He’s averaged 25.5 FPPG over his last three games, scoring six total times and returning to last year’s playoff run where he posted elite fantasy production. The Titans allowed the third-most receptions to opposing backs during the regular season and were no stranger to letting them score, ranking top-12 in that category as well. The only reason to fade Williams is if building contrarian Mahomes lineups that feature his pass catchers instead.
Aaron Jones, GB – After watching Dalvin Cook struggle against this 49ers front seven and watching Davante Adams go off for 100+ yards and two scores last week, most lineup builds will favor Adams over Jones this week. Pivoting to Jones could be a slate-defining pivot if we see Adams struggle with the 49ers secondary. Jones saw some heavy rushing volume in the Divisional Round, carrying the ball 21 times for 62 yards and two scores. The 49ers run defense (No. 11) hasn’t been quite as adept as their pass defense (No. 2) and provides a path for the versatile Jones to succeed. The Packers’ offensive line graded out as PFF’s No. 8 run blocking unit and No. 5 in FootballOutsiders’ Adjusted Line Yards and should provide better lanes than what Minnesota gave Cook last week.
Contrarian Play: Tevin Coleman, SF – Part of the reason Tevin Coleman played so much last week was not just because he was successfully running the ball against Minnesota, but also because Raheem Mostert suffered a calf injury. Granted, that was late in the fourth quarter, but with Mostert entering this matchup with a questionable tag, perhaps we see Coleman return to another 20+ touch outing. He’s been appropriately priced up ahead of Mostert (who is an incredible leverage late swap pivot) and the matchup with Green Bay on the ground is certainly one to attack. They’ve allowed the seventh-most rushing yards and fourth-most rushing touchdowns to opposing backs. Allowing 4.9 YPC, Coleman should have little difficulty picking up yardage behind the No. 8 offensive line in Adjusted Line Yards. Kyle Shanahan has been riding the “hot hand” all season and looks like the ball is in Coleman’s court entering this matchup.
Davante Adams, GB – Adams was the top recommended receiver last week and he came through with flying colors. He posted an 11-target outing where he reeled in an 8-160-2 stat line against the Seahawks secondary. San Francisco’s corners should provide a more difficult test, but with Adams garnering an elite 29% target share, WR/CB matchup analysis here is mostly fruitless. Adams moves all over the formation for the Packers and won’t face one individual corner here. It’s worth noting that the one weak spot that we exploited last week via Stefon Diggs is attacking Ahkello Witherspoon over the top. Diggs torched him for a 41-yard score early in the game, totaling Witherspoon’s TD total to five touchdowns allowed in his last three games played. He was subsequently benched for Emmanuel Moseley, who may start instead this week. Keep tabs here on this cornerback situation as this is a massive mismatch if Witherspoon gets the start.
Tyreek Hill, KC – Hill torched the Titans defensive backs in Week 10 in his previous encounter with them, hauling in 11-of-19 targets for 157 yards and a score. That was a career-high in target volume as the Chiefs identified a mismatch with Hill and Adoree’ Jackson. Jackson has a nagging foot injury that kept him out of practice for much of last week. If he’s at less than 100%, Hill could have another field day against this secondary. He should also find success operating out of the slot (54% routes run) against Logan Ryan. Ryan led all slot corners in yardage (758), yards after catch (356), and touchdowns allowed (5). Hill is tough to fade, especially on FanDuel, given his respective price.
A.J. Brown, TEN – Bargain bin priced at just $5.2K on DraftKings, it’s hard not to find a way to roster Brown there compared to his lofty $6.8K pricing on FanDuel. Brown has run nearly 90% of his routes this year on the perimeter, where he’ll square off against Charvarius Ward and Bashaud Breeland this week. The Chiefs’ starting duo has limited opposing wideouts to the fewest receptions allowed and second-fewest fantasy points to outside receivers during the regular season. The one weak spot here is attacking Ward vertically. On pass plays of 20+ yards, Ward has yielded a 108.6 QB Rating. Brown runs 55% of his routes specifically against Ward’s side of the field so some deep shots in Brown’s direction look absolutely warranted given this matchup. Ward gave up a 54-yard score to Kenny Stills in the Divisional Round, and with safety Juan Thornhill on IR, deep shots could be prevalent to Brown this week.
Deebo Samuel, SF – Another salary saver with immense upside this week is the 49ers’ Samuel. Samuel’s target volume is far from consistent, but he finished the regular season either hitting the century mark and/or the end zone in six of his last eight games. He’s also getting mixed in with the run game where he’s broken off yardage in big chunks. Don’t be surprised if Kyle Shanahan has saved some of his more creative runs with Samuel for the postseason. Samuel’s matchup this week likely will primarily come against Kevin King, who’s generally assigned to defend the “bigger” receivers, yet still struggles in doing so. King’s side of the field gave up the eighth-most fantasy points to opposing receivers during the regular season and he could struggle defending the 85th-percentile SPARQ score athlete, Deebo Samuel.
Contrarian Play: Mecole Hardman, KC – Fourth among the Chiefs receivers in snaps and playing time, Hardman is a risky dart throw this week. That being said, he carries immense upside with the ability to take any touch to the house with his 4.33 speed. He showcased that last time he faced this squad, housing his only target 63 yards for a touchdown. Hardman saw four targets last week in the Divisional Round — the same number as Tyreek Hill and Demarcus Robinson. What we’re targeting here is a big scoring play. The Titans were top-12 in pass plays of 20+ yards allowed and Mahomes finished the regular season leading all passers in touchdowns on deep plays (13) while posting the second highest QB Rating (122.9), per PFF. Hardman showed earlier this year when filling in for Hill that he could thrive making big plays on limited volume. It’s led to him finishing his rookie regular season scoring six receiving touchdowns on just 26 receptions. Hardman also benefits with additional special teams touches where he housed a kick return just a few weeks ago in Week 17.
Travis Kelce, KC – Kelce broke the slate last week posting a ridiculous 44.4 DraftKings points as he went 10-134-3 on 12 targets. The matchup was absolutely there for us to pursue so it wasn’t a surprise, it was more challenging just trying to find a way to roster his salary with so many other studs available in the Divisional Round. His matchup this week in the Conference Championships is another one that’s worthy of pursuing. The Titans ranked top-8 in receiving yards, touchdowns, and fantasy points to opposing tight ends during the regular season. Kelce finished his fourth-straight season as the fantasy TE1 and commanded a 28% target share since the team’s Week 12 bye. Once again, fade at your own risk.
George Kittle, SF – Last week was all about finding the extra salary to get up to Kelce, but this week, Kittle is a strong receiving option in his own right and could easily beat him out points-per-dollar. Kittle destroyed the Packers in their previous encounter, catching all six of his targets for 129 yards and a score. The Packers have been beaten up by elite opposing tight ends all year, giving up multiple 15+ fantasy point outings. Kittle’s position-leading 28% target share on the year not only trumps all tight ends, but also leads all 49ers receivers. While everyone chases Kelce’s three-TD outing from last week, you can save a lot of salary by opting for Kittle instead (or playing both).
Contrarian Play: Jonnu Smith, TEN – Ownership will likely gravitate towards Kittle and Kelce (for good reason), so if trying to differentiate and spend up elsewhere, sacrificing at the TE position with Jonnu Smith could be a path you take. Jonnu’s target volume is tough to rely on compared to the top two tight ends, but he’s made up for it by reaching the end zone in four of his last six games. The Titans are quite content relying on Derrick Henry and it’s leading to an increased number of two-TE sets. Jonnu’s coming off a 95% snap outing and possesses some ridiculous efficiency metrics, as noted by Rotoworld’s Ian Hartitz.
49ers DST – The 49ers DST likely comes in as the chalk play after seeing how well they handled Aaron Rodgers in their previous encounter. They limited him to 104 passing yards, sacked him five times, and forced a fumble as the DST unit scored 11.0 fantasy points on both sites. That was in Week 12 without Dee Ford, who marked his return last week with a sack, tackle for loss, and a pair of QB hits. San Francisco’s additions of Kwon Alexander and Jaquiski Tartt should also not be overlooked as they raise the entire ceiling of this pass defense’s capabilities. Playing at home as 7.5-point favorites, the 49ers DST is a strong option this week.
Titans DST – It feels fishy recommending the Titans DST, but we’ve historically seen outdoor postseason games hit the under (77-58-4). If this game follows historic trends and goes under on the 52-point game total, a major reason will be that the Titans DST shows up and slows down the Chiefs offense. They’ve already faced each other once in the regular season and have a feel for each squad’s tendencies. Multiple studies have shown that divisional teams facing each other the second time in the year tend to be lower scoring than the first encounter. IF — emphasis on the capitalization there — the Titans DST can keep the Chiefs in check, your best bet is to pair them with Derrick Henry. If the Titans can jump out to an early lead like Houston did last week and capitalize on some miscues and turnovers, Tennessee is built to maintain leads, leaning heavily on their workhorse in Henry.
Good luck this week!