@MagicSportsGuy breaks down everything you need to know ahead of the NFL Conference Championships: Don’t set those DraftKings or FanDuel lineups without it!
Time to explain this breakdown for NFL Conference Championships DFS: Unlike most game-by-game articles in the industry, I mix in DFS and betting tips (props and sides/totals) in addition to breaking down every viable fantasy player for that week. I am an analytics/statistics guy who relies on data to make decisions, so you will not hear me recommending a bet/player based on a trend from 5 years ago.
“You have too many players listed at the bottom, how do I know who to play!?”
The first thing I recommend is to actually read the article, I know in 2019 that is a lot to ask: We are busy and have short attention spans, but if you want to truly get my take on the slate, reading it in its entirety will be beneficial. That said, if you don’t have time or just don’t like to read, you can look at the recommended players and put them in your player pool.
Lineup Construction Basics
In my opinion (unless you are an MME player), the single entry & (especially) three-max entry GPPs are still the sweet spot in DFS. I will also play cash (NFL only at this point), but I submit “team one” from my “primary” three GPP teams in cash since that is what I consider to be my “optimal” lineup. I don’t worry about ownership percentage too much on that team, I just play the guys I think will score the most points.
For those saying “you can’t win a GPP with that mentality,” I will say you are right AND wrong.
What GPP you are playing? If it’s the $400 3-max with 208 entries (or fewer), I would argue you CAN win playing your optimal lineup.
If it’s the milly maker or a LARGE field GPP, then I totally agree: it’s next to impossible to roll out a chalky/cash lineup and take down first place.
That said, playing my “optimal” lineup has been profitable in the milly maker from a pure ROI standpoint. So many teams in the milly are dead on arrival, taking insane chances on 4-6 players who have a very low probability of success. When my optimal wins in cash games, it will cash the Milly Maker also (usually rather easily).
Due to the sharp level of competition, it’s the higher-buy-in GPPs which have higher cash lines (regardless of the public’s opinion, it’s a fact), and the truly consistent GPP players understand it’s not just about “fading chalk,” but rather fading “bad chalk.” You will rarely see a GPP winner with nothing but sub 10% guys, but rather a combination of chalk that hits PLUS 2-4 low-owned players.
How I Build Lineups
Normally I will have 2-3 players in lineups two and three who are parts of “game stacks.” One may be “chalky,” though most people are scared to do full game stacks, so you’ll be surprised at the ownership more often than not. The final team is a game stack that is a little more under the radar, though nowadays, with 900 fantasy websites evaluating the same slate, is any game really “under the radar” anymore? I guess everything is relative, if it is a “lower owned” stack or even a popular stack for that matter, and the game goes off, you are going to be profitable more often than not. It’s when you ALSO nail the lower-owned “one-off” plays you have WITH your popular stack that you win a GPP.
Personally, I play 20-50 teams a week on most weeks, so I am using every player I put in the article. I won’t play a guy I am not recommending, so when I am making lineups after the article is done, and see a player on one of my teams that didn’t make it into the article, I will add him and update you on Twitter. Nothing would make me more annoyed as a subscriber than seeing a tout playing a guy he didn’t recommend.
Titans @ Chiefs
KC -7 | O/U 51
Implied Team Totals: TENN – 20.5 | KC – 30.5
Pace and Play Calling
Tennessee has won two-straight games with fewer than 100 yards passing in each. According to the AP, it is the first time since 1988 (CINN, The “Ickey Shuffle” year for those old enough to remember). Tenn has rushed at a 70% rate in those two as a result of early and sustained leads, which has led to just four Tannehill passes in the 4th quarter.
These teams both come in hot, with TENN winning nine of 12 since Tannehill becoming the starter, and KC winning seven-straight as Mahomes got healthier.
Game script and the play-calling is everything in this game. TENN keeps steamrolling teams because they have had a positive game script. If KC can come out and score quickly, the Titans will be forced to pass more and Henry less. I don’t think this means certain death for them, but it will be interesting to see how the passing offense responds after essentially getting a two-week vacation thanks to the King. We have seen them do it against KC, where they trailed for the majority of the second half.
Another weird stat that has emerged from this TENN run is their lack of field goals. They haven’t attempted one since Week 13, which means their last 24 scores have been TDs.
The Chiefs lost S Juan Thornhill for the season with a torn ACL in Week 17 and may also be without DT Chris Jones, KC’s best pass-rusher.
Titans Adam Humphries practiced for the second straight day on Thursday and said he’s “feeling good.” The WR caught the game-winning TD pass in their previous matchup.
Ryan Tannehill only dropped back 19 times in their game vs. KC, which (again) is the main concern with using him and A.J. Brown, etc. If they fall behind, he will likely reach/exceed value at his low price, but he comes with a massive standard deviation. Their goal is to win exactly like they have been winning, on the back of the King, so keep that in mind when taking a shot on Tannehill. KC has been good against opposing passers due to teams picking on their run D and a fairly soft schedule. DeShawn Watson proved that they are far from a shutdown pass D, going for over 30 FP for the second time this year against KC.
32, 35, 32 touches over his past three games. That should be enough to just pay up for Derrick Henry, as even a massive 30% decrease in usage still gives him 20+ touches. He racked up 191-2 on 25 touches against this D, who finished 28th in adjusted line yards allowed, 25th in open field rush D, and 29th in overall rush DVOA. The adjusted line yards and open field ranks are so critical in this matchup, as they have ZERO chance to slow him down if they are being pushed back nearly five yards per rush attempt. Then if he gets into the open field, well, you know what happens. If Chris Jones is OUT or less than 100%, we likely will be discussing his 3rd consecutive 200-yard game. The other positive I wanted to add was they actually designed two screen passes for him last week, which could be HUGE if they fall behind.
A.J. Brown got a big price reduction, sending him way under $6k for the first time since Week 15. $5.2k is just too cheap for a guy with his upside; the only issue I have is ownership, as he is projected to be the 3rd highest owned WR. Again, MEGA talent and MEGA upside, so I have no problem if you eat the chalk, especially in the context of a game stack. That said, his QB has thrown less often than any QB this season over a three-game stretch so there is a solid case/scenario that makes the fade logical. In addition to the low volume and less than favorable matchup (KC 55% completion rate to opposing WRs, 2nd), TENN also gets Adam Humphries back, which gives one more (small) hurdle for AJ.
Corey Davis has caught one pass this postseason, and it was from his RB. He is likely more affected by Humpries’ return than AJ, who is the Alpha. We are looking for 3-4 catches, 40 yards, and maybe a lucky TD from Davis. He did post three straight with 3+ catches and 40+ yards from Weeks 15-17.
I whiffed on the Anthony Firkser call last week. Hey, it happens when you try to take advantage of a $2.5k, low-owned player. Like with GB, teams tend to go after KC with TEs and RBs, targeting TEs at a 26% rate. Smith dominates snaps, but in terms of targets and yards/catches it is amazing close, even after Smith caught the TD last week (2-12-1). Over their past three games, Smith has 3-21-1 vs 3-28-1 for Firkser. They combined for 7-66-1 against KC so likely will be a big factor in this game. My worry for Firkser this week is Humpries. Most of his snaps were coming from the slot, which would logically go back to the WR.
Patrick Mahomes keeps running, which is fucking amazing for fantasy. Already the best passer, if he keeps adding rush yards and TDs to his resume he will challenge Lamar for QB1 next season. Not much to say here, he is clearly the best QB option on the slate (446-3 v TENN) but will come at a cost. In a 3-Max, I will have two Mahomes teams, one with Kelce and one with Hill as the combo.
Damien Williams vindication!! (sort of). Sure, he is not helping my fantasy/best ball teams with this late run, but it at least makes me feel better about my process. When he is on the field, he has been that RB1 I thought I was drafting. He dominated RB snaps last week (98%), and is now averaging 22.6 FPPG in his last five “healthy” games. Whether through the air (2 TD catches, last three), GL work (4 TDs, last 2), or rushing (14.75 attempts, last four), he is locked in as the KC primary back.
Tyreek Hill was terrible last week, considering his team scored 51 points and QB threw for 321-5. It may have been a result of that big hit he took in the first quarter, but regardless, he killed a ton of LUs as the slates most popular WR. We have to come back to him again in GPPs, he is just too explosive and offers too much upside to fade on a two-game slate.
Sammy Watkins had his best game since Week 9, but it still consisted of just two catches and one big play on two targets. The positive was his routes run, which matched Tyreek (37 routes).
Mecole Hardman actually had four targets, the most since Week 11, but on only eight routes. He is projected to be ½ of Watkins ownership and is less expensive so is my preferred “other” KC player to use this week behind D-Will, Kelce, Hill, & Sammy.
Demarcus Robinson, aka “Stone Hands Rob” also got four targets, converting on one for four yards. It only takes one throw/broken coverage with Mahomes and these guys, but I can’t to Demarcus. If he ends up breaking the long TD I will cuss at my TV for a bit and move on.
Travis Kelce posted 7-75-1 against TENN and is coming off an epic 10-134-3 game against HOU. The cap is tight, so you will have to make some tough choices if you want to stack him with Mahomes again, but they are clearly the top stack option. It may feel point chasey, but c’mon, we aren’t chasing Dalton and Boyd, this is Kelce/Mahomes in a game to go to the SB. Tenn allowed a hurt Mark Andrews and Haden Hurst to post 8-92-1 last week so the matchup is good on top of the talent and narrative.
Preferred “Core” Plays
(All Formats/Full Slate)
(In order of personal exposure)
Packers @ 49ers
SF -7.5 | O/U 46.5
Implied Team Totals: GB – 19.5 | SF – 27
Pace and Play Calling
Neither team operates quickly, with SF 29th and GB 28th in overall pace. That hasn’t stopped the Niners from throwing up big numbers all season, especially at home. They finished 2nd overall (29.80 and 2nd at home (31.8). That includes 37 points they put up on these Packers in a 37-8 blowout.
SF ran at the 2nd highest rate this season, while GB struggled to stop the run all season, finishing 23rd in rush DVOA and 31st in adjusted line yards allowed at nearly 4.9 a/YPC. If a team finishes 31st over a 16-week sample, they aren’t going to flip a switch and be good at rush D all of sudden. I realize they have been much better as the season progressed, including 39 yards on 15 carries to SEA last week, but I am not buying it. Their schedule (MINN without Cook, WASH, SEA w/ Least Mode, DET, & Chicago) has been as easy as it gets.
Green Bay is 9-1 in games decided by eight points or fewer. Their average margin of victory is just three points, compared to 10 for SF. They were league average on the road, averaging 21.4 PPG which is yet another check for SF, who allowed 18.6 at home.
I did not factor in the return of Dee Ford, Jaquiski Tartt and Kwon Alexander enough last week. With the SF defense at full-strength, they allowed just 147 total yards and pressured Kirk Cousins on 49% of his dropbacks (6 sacks). Aaron Rodgers finished behind the likes of Mitch Trubisky and Andy Dalton with a 32% completion rate under pressure for just 4.5 YPA (6 TDs), compared to 72% and 5.3 YPA (20 TDs). How the GB O-Line holds up against this healthy SF pass rush will likely decide the game. In Week 12, they allowed Rodgers to be sacked five times, the most in any game this season. It also led to the laughable 2.8 YPP average.
Davante Adams has 53 targets in his last four games (13.25 p/g), which equates to a 33% target share. With the rest of the WR core being what it is, and Allen Lazard leaving with an injury, Adams is the only show in town. He has been a TD-scoring machine in his career and is back at it after a slow start, getting into the EZ seven times in his last seven games with two scores last week. That gives him 40 TDs in 57 games since 2016. With Richard Sherman staying home on his right side, teams simply avoid him, which is what they did in Week 12, with Adams posting 6-35-0 of his 7-42-1 away from Sherman. As we assumed, Ahkello Witherspoon was benched again after giving up a big TD to Stefon Diggs. Emmanuel Mosely took over and played very well again, so I assume he will earn the start.
Allen Lazard practiced in full so he will be back. Unfortunately, he will make the sacrifice again and run his routes against Sherman. He caught just one ball in Week 12, despite their massive play volume. He has lined up inside on 30% of his snaps, which would be the best way to get him away from Sherman, but slot CB K’waun Willaims is not a great matchup either.
Jimmy Graham showed up in a plus matchup against SEA, going 4-49-0 which feels like his ceiling, or close to it. With K’Wan Alexander back, this is a brutal matchup for the other “Jimmy G” in this game.
With Marquez Valdez-Scantling and Geronimo Allison catching just one more pass than I did last week, both are hard to trust. If I were the Pack I would try to get Jamaal Williams on the field more in two-RB sets, as he and Aaron Jones are arguably the two passing options behind Adams.
Jones got 22 carries last week, which gives him three-straight with 22+. He is the best shot GB has at the upset IMO, as we have seen RBs have success against this D at times this season. He is a STRONG GPP play at 15-20% less ownership than the other top backs.
Jimmy Garoppolo is “EXAMPLE A” for the case against low-volume QBs in rush first offenses. I thought we could get enough from him last week against MINN, but I was wrong. He dropped back 19-times, as the Niners dominated on the ground. On a YPP basis, he is really good, averaging 7.7 ANY/A and the 11th best PFF dropback rating. He is 2nd in pressured competition rate, 1st in deep-ball completion rate, and 5th in TD passes. I also still believe the combo of George Kittle-Deeebo Samuel-Emmanual Sanders is one of the best trios in the league, which allowed him to reach 18.5 FP in just 20 attempts against this GB team. The matchup favors the run and he will likely be a “game manager” against the 10th best pass DVOA. He has shown us that 30 FP ceiling three times this season, but two were against AZ and the other in the 90+ point shootout with NO.
I tweeted out the Sanders/Jimmy G splits last week, but they are worth repeating. When Sanders has just 25+ yards, Jimmy G is averaging over 27 FPPG. I really thought he was set up well against MINN without Mackensie Alexander and Mike Hughes and was very happy when he caught 2 balls for 31 yards on the opening drive. Well, he didn’t catch another pass, finishing with less than 9 FP for his 4th straight game. In two WR sets, he should see a lot of Jaire Alexander on the outside and Tramon Williams in the slot, which is not great matchups for the WR. That said, he is a great value on FD at $5.5k. I am finding that I need 1-2 value WRs on this slate to jam in Henry, etc.
Deebo has the best primary matchup against Kevin King, who allowed 1.81 FP per target this season. Deebo too fell victim to the low volume, but he is clearly the alpha now at WR. He now has at least one carry in his last six games, which gives a nice boost to his upside.
Kittle was a nightmare last week for those who chose him over Kelce. But when a QB completes 11 passes, that tends to happen. The price gap has grown significantly, making the decision a tough one again. Recency bias would normally reduce ownership significantly, but on a two-game slate, I am not sure if it will be significant. Currently, the ownership shows 40% for Kelce and 38% for Kittle. He posted 6-119-0 against them in Week 12 and is a prime candidate to have a big bounce-back game, as you know they will want to unleash him after a 3-15-0 line. Last time he was held down (2-17-0 vs BAL), he came back with 6-67-1 on eight targets. GB funnels targets to TEs and RBs (43%).
Raheem Mostert was dealing with an ankle issue last week apparently, info that would have been good before the game. He has 12 or fewer touches in 3-of-4 games. The big story was 22 rush attempts from Tevin Coleman, his season-high and the first time he was over five carries in five weeks.
Preferred “Core” Plays
(All Formats/Full Slate)
(In order of personal exposure)
Mostert (I forgot him, my bad. He practiced in full so is a solid GPP RB2/Flex)
DK – Mahomes – Mostert – King – Watkins – Kittle – Kelce – SF
(I am also swapping DWill & Kelce on second LU)
FD – Mahomes – Henry – Mostert – Davis – Sammy – Kittle
“Low-er Owned one-offs” – It’s a two-game slate, can only go so far “off”.
Hardman (hoping for a 2-50-1 line) – Jimmy G (to load up on studs/ fit in Adams
Don’t miss my Cheat Sheet for the NFL Conference Championships!