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Favorites & Fades

Conference Championships

By: Nick Caron | HC Green | Eli Mack | John Fessel
Updated: 1/26/24



- Green highlight indicates plus matchup (top eight)
- Red highlight indicates negative matchup (bottom eight)
- Lines and totals updated Sunday morning

Chiefs @ Ravens - (Caron)
Line: BAL -4.0
Total: 44.5

BAL FPts Allowed vs. QBs: No.30
BAL FPts Allowed vs. RBs: No.26
BAL FPts Allowed vs. WRs: No.21
BAL FPts Allowed vs. TEs: No.22

No Brainers: TE Travis Kelce

Favorites: WR Rashee Rice

Rookie wide receiver Rashee Rice has certainly been the breakout pass-catcher in this Kansas City offense this season. Unfortunately, he took a bit of a step back in the Divisional Round as the Chiefs were less pass-heavy than normal, throwing just 23 passes during their close victory over the Bills. Rice was targeted just four times but still managed a 17 percent target share given the low volume of the offense overall, so there’s still plenty of optimism that he can get back to being the team’s top receiver here in the AFC Championship game. Prior to this past week, Rice had been on a streak of having been targeted at least nine times in six out of his previous seven games, and he had managed to produce a touchdown and/or 100 yards receiving in five of those seven games.

The Ravens defense has been excellent across the board all season long, so this is not a particularly great matchup, but Rice has established himself as the top wide receiver in this offense and he should push for 10 targets in this game, making him a solid floor play while also providing some upside to be the WR1 overall for the week.

On the Fence: RB Isiah Pacheco

Much like teammate Rashee Rice, the case for Isiah Pacheco to be in your lineup this week really comes down to the potential volume that he’ll see in this game. Christian McCaffrey is, of course, the RB1 for the week and it could easily be argued that Jahmyr Gibbs and possibly even David Montgomery should be ahead of Pacheco, but Pacheco does provide an interesting pivot option as the clear RB1 in the Kansas City offense. Pacheco has quietly been on a red-hot run down the stretch, having scored seven total touchdowns over his past six games, and he’s touched the ball at least 15 times in every one of those contests.

A matchup against the Ravens is certainly not one that fantasy managers should be salivating over, but it’s important to note that while Baltimore finished the regular season as one of the better run defenses overall, they struggled a bit against opposing backs down the stretch. Najee Harris, Devon Achane, Christian McCaffrey, Kyren Williams, and Jerome Ford all eclipsed 100 rushing yards against this defense over their final eight regular season games. With the Chiefs’ passing game not clicking as well as it has been in previous years, look for them to continue to lean on their running game and Pacheco in particular.

Fade: QB Patrick Mahomes

“Fade Patrick Mahomes” has almost never been the correct decision and it feels wrong putting him here, but the reality is that Patrick Mahomes simply has not been playing like the fantasy monster that we’ve become accustomed to throughout his career. Mahomes managed to be relatively efficient against the Bills this past week, completing 17 of his 23 pass attempts, but he finished with just 215 yards and two touchdowns and was outside the top-half of QB scorers for the week.

Mahomes has now failed to reach 300 passing yards in 10 of his past 11 games and he hasn’t thrown three touchdowns in any game over that stretch. Without elite rushing numbers, Mahomes has really become a low-end “reliable but not great” QB1. Lamar Jackson’s rushing upside and the overall efficiency of both the Detroit and San Francisco offenses, combined with a tough matchup against an elite Baltimore defense, means that there’s a case to be made for Mahomes being the bottom-ranked QB in the Conference Championship round.

KC FPts Allowed vs. QBs: No.29
KC FPts Allowed vs. RBs: No.19
KC FPts Allowed vs. WRs: No.28
KC FPts Allowed vs. TEs: No.29

No Brainers: QB Lamar Jackson

Favorites: WR Zay Flowers

First-round rookie Zay Flowers didn’t have the huge breakout season of a player like Puka Nacua or some of the other recent first-round rookie wide receivers, but he still exceeded most expectations by leading the Ravens in receptions and yards by a wide margin in both categories. What’s been interesting is that while Flowers got off to a bit of a slow start, he’s really kicked into gear down the stretch. He scored four touchdowns over his final five regular season games and also got his first career 100-yard game in his final regular season game against the Dolphins. He’s clearly established himself as the team’s top pass-catching weapon, which would normally make a player a strong “Favorite” in this article, but the Ravens continue to be a very balanced offense which, combined with some blowout victories, has led to some inconsistent target totals for the rookie. The Ravens have won their past two games by a total of 90 to 29 and while Flowers has been able to produce 147 yards and a touchdown over those two games, he’s also seen just eight targets as the Ravens have really not needed to lean heavily on their passing game.

A blowout victory shouldn’t be much of a worry this week as the Ravens have the tough task of facing a Kansas City defense that may lack star power but has been absolutely locking down opposing offenses. The Chiefs’ secondary has played way over expectation, making Flowers a risky, albeit viable option in the Conference Championship round.

On the Fence: TE Isaiah Likely, TE Mark Andrews

Unsustainable touchdown efficiency is rarely something that we want to be chasing, but Lamar Jackson’s history of targeting the tight end position in the red zone has instilled confidence in fantasy managers who are taking a chance on Isaiah Likely this week. Likely has caught just 19 passes over his past six games, but he’s somehow managed to score six touchdowns over that stretch, including one this past week in the Ravens’ dominant playoff victory over the Texans. Likely has really exploded in productivity as of late, but with Mark Andrews being reactivated, things are murky. We could very well see Andrews immediately supplant Likely and reassume his role as the team’s primary red zone target, which should be even more important this week against a Kansas City defense that has seen some excellent play out of their secondary and could end up funneling targets to the middle of the field where these tight ends primarily play. Nevertheless, they're both options this week in what could end up being a high-scoring AFC Championship game.

Fade: RB Gus Edwards, RB Justice Hill, and RB Dalvin Cook

The Baltimore rushing attack remains one of the best in the league in large part due to the mobility of quarterback Lamar Jackson. Despite the overall numbers looking great, the truth is that there is a lot of risk - and not much upside - in banking on the running backs in Baltimore. The best of the bunch this season has certainly been Gus Edwards who managed to score 13 touchdowns of the season, but he never exceeded 80 rushing yards in a game and is essentially a complete non-factor in the passing game. Meanwhile, the team has also been mixing in Justice Hill as their primary passing down back, but his fantasy production has been minimal as well. To make matters worse, the Ravens had been working in veteran Melvin Gordon until recently when Dalvin Cook became available so they swapped out Gordon for Cook during this playoff run. This committee approach means that the only back on the team who really has any chance of producing viable fantasy numbers in this game is Edwards, and even that would be minimal unless he gets into the end zone multiple times. With as many quality backs that are on the board this week, the Ravens backfield is just one to avoid.

Prediction: Ravens 24, Chiefs 20 ^ Top

Lions @ 49ers - (Fessel)
Line: SF -7.5
Total: 51.5

SF FPts Allowed vs. QBs: No.27
SF FPts Allowed vs. RBs: No.24
SF FPts Allowed vs. WRs: No.14
SF FPts Allowed vs. TEs: No.21

No Brainers: WR Amon-Ra St. Brown, TE Sam LaPorta (knee)

Favorites: RB Jahmyr Gibbs

The 49ers run defense is elite, surrendering the second fewest points per game to the position. Both Jahmyr Gibbs and David Montgomery could face a relatively tough day, especially if the favored 49ers take control of the game early. Yet, in a game where the Lions are likely to have their share of offense too, Gibbs is still a solid bet out of the backfield, largely due to his involvement in the passing game.

The Niners one flaw against opposing running backs was that they surrendered 90 receptions to the position (5th most). Gibbs had 52 receptions during the regular season, as well as 8 receptions in two post-season games, and is likely to remain involved in the offense, whether or not the Lions fall behind. Don’t overpay, if you are in a DFS format, but think of him as you would a high end RB2 this week.

On the Fence: RB David Montgomery

Montgomery had an outstanding season behind an elite Lions offensive line, finishing tied for 5th in fantasy points per game and raking in 13 touchdowns in 14 regular season games. He punched another touchdown against the Rams in the Wild Card round, but had a very quiet day against the Buccaneers in the Divisional Round (47 total yards, 3 receptions, no touchdowns). Montgomery’s 3 receptions matched a season high, and his role with Detroit has mostly been focused through the ground, not through the air.

In a game where the Lions may be in a negative game script, there’s a real risk that Montgomery could have another quiet day. The Niners stout run defense doesn’t help his prospects, either. Montgomery is still in the flex conversation, but he may not be a particularly strong selection due to the direction this matchup is pointing.

Fade: QB Jared Goff

Jared Goff has tossed at least 250 yards passing and a touchdown in the last six games, with three multi-touchdown games and just 2 interceptions total (both versus Dallas Week 17). During that time Goff’s completion percentage has been at least 70% in all but one game, so Goff and the Lions passing attack has been notably efficient over the last month and a half.

But four of those games were at home and he didn’t break 15 fantasy points in the two road matchups. For the entire year, Goff broke 15 fantasy points just three times on the road (versus seven times at home), and two of the three times he broke 15 points on the road came in a dome. Facing a difficult 49ers defense outdoors on the road does not bode well for Goff’s chances at a meaningful fantasy day. Goff is an unexceptional QB2 in a matchup against a 49ers defense that created more interceptions (22) than it allowed passing touchdowns (20).

DET FPts Allowed vs. QBs: No.4
DET FPts Allowed vs. RBs: No.32
DET FPts Allowed vs. WRs: No.3
DET FPts Allowed vs. TEs: No.9

No Brainers: TE George Kittle

Favorites: QB Brock Purdy, WR Brandon Aiyuk, RB Christian McCaffrey

Brock Purdy threw a career high 39 attempts this past week against the Packers, and it was hardly a banner day (252 yards passing, 1 TD and 14 rushing yards). Still, a late drive put the Niners in the Championship Game against a very beatable Lions defense (3rd most fantasy points allowed to quarterbacks). Even sans Deebo Samuel (see “On the Fence” below), Purdy should see plenty of wide-open receivers in what could be a high scoring game, generating a big ceiling for Brock. Think of him as an upper tier QB1 for the NFC Championship Game.

Wide receivers roasted the Lions for 23 touchdowns this season, and a gaudy 13.7 yards per reception. Brandon Aiyuk had 17.9 yards per reception this season, with 7 touchdowns. With the possibility of Deebo Samuel being out or limited, Aiyuk could see a bump to his 6.6 targets per game. Aiyuk is absolutely a WR1 for this matchup.

Meanwhile, you may have noticed Christian McCaffrey’s name here. You might be asking why? He’s an obvious ‘no brainer’, is he not? Yes and no. If you are playing in non-salary cap formats, McCaffrey is an obvious choice to start. But if you are playing Daily Fantasy, for example, you may end up overpaying for McCaffrey due to the fact that he’ll be facing the Lions one big defensive strength: run defense.

The Lions barely gave up 1000 yards to running backs combined this season (1028 yards). No team was more stifling against ground games than Detroit, not even San Francisco. They were also just one of seven teams to give up single-digit touchdowns to running backs. Perhaps most distressing to McCaffrey’s price this week, they gave up the second least receptions (59) and zero receiving touchdowns to backs.

McCaffrey should still be thought of as a RB1, due to his overall talents and the elite nature of the 49ers offense, but heavily consider the cost and don’t overpay for what could be a relatively subdued performance.

Update: Deebo Samuel is off the injury report and will play.

On the Fence: WR Deebo Samuel (shoulder)

Samuel left last week’s game against the Packers, re-injuring his shoulder, and his status for the NFC Championship Game in question. The 49ers are giving off an air of confidence that he will play, and after failing to practice Wednesday, he did get listed as a limited participant on Thursday.

Whether this is legitimate progress or a smoke screen is hard to say, and those fantasy managers considering Samuel might only want to do so if they are able to make a last-minute decision. He’s a very high risk, but also high reward, flex candidate if he is active this Sunday.

Fade: N/A

Prediction: 49ers 34, Lions 23 ^ Top