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Inside the Matchup
Divisional Playoffs

By: Andy Swanson | Jason Katz | Nick Caron | Justin Bales





- Green highllight indicates plus matchup (top eight)
- Red highlight indicates negative matchup (bottom eight)

Colts @ Chiefs - (Caron)
Line: KC -5.0
Total: 57.0

Passing Game Thoughts: A third game against a team in a given season is rarely the recipe for big time fantasy production and that was this case this past week as Indianapolis’ Andrew Luck threw for just 222 yards and two touchdowns with one interception on the road against the Texans. That doesn’t compare favorably to the previous two games he had against the Texans, but Luck’s performance was good enough to make him one of the higher-scoring fantasy quarterbacks during the wild card round and it should give fantasy owners some confidence as Indianapolis stays on the road and heads to Kansas City.

The Chiefs defense has been game-scripted into some tough fantasy situations this season, but that’s actually a good thing for Luck who will likely be relied on to throw heavily in this contest in order to keep the Colts scoring at a pace equal to or greater than the Chiefs. Luck has had some huge fantasy performances this season and continues to primarily look to wide receiver T.Y. Hilton as well as veteran tight end Eric Ebron who has really broke out this year playing with Luck. Both players had solid fantasy performances last week with Ebron scoring a touchdown while Hilton led the team with five receptions for 85 yards and they’re likely to again be the best fantasy producers in the Indianapolis passing game this week in what should be a good matchup.

The Chiefs quietly allowed the most fantasy points in the league this season to opposing tight ends, including a league-most 10 touchdowns on the season, making the already highly interesting Ebron even more enticing this week. Those in playoff fantasy formats which only allow the use of a player once during the playoffs would be wise to use Ebron in this game. The Colts’ other two top receivers, Chester Rogers and Dontrelle Inman, could be viable Flex options in this contest in a game where Indianapolis could realistically throw the ball 40 or more times.

KC FPts Allowed vs. QBs: No.4
KC FPts Allowed vs. RBs: No.3
KC FPts Allowed vs. WRs: No.14
KC FPts Allowed vs. TEs: No.1

Running Game Thoughts: Indianapolis’ running game, led by their much-improved offensive line and running back Marlon Mack is hitting its stride right at the right time. Mack, the team’s leading rusher, has now gone for 119 or more rushing yards in three of his past four games, including this past week’s 124-yard performance on the road against the Texans. Even better yet, for fantasy purposes, Mack has scored a total of six rushing touchdowns over his past five games, including at least one each week.

That type of production combined with a matchup against a Chiefs defense that gave up the third-most fantasy points to opposing running backs during the regular season has to have fantasy owners excited about Mack this week. Kansas City gave up back-to-back 100-yard rushing days to Chris Carson and Doug Martin in their final two games before the playoffs and how they face an Indianapolis team that can not only grind the ball between the tackles, but can also make use of their backs in the passing game. The team’s primary pass catching back has been rookie Nyheim Hines who impressed with 63 receptions during the regular season. That role does make Hines viable in PPR formats as there is a possibility that the Colts fall behind in this one, which would most likely lead to a higher-than-usual snap share for Hines and a lower-than-usual snap share for Mack. Still, Mack makes for a strong RB1 play in what should be one of the better matchups of the week at the position while Hines is a low-end RB2 in PPR formats only.

Value Meter:
QB1: Andrew Luck
RB1: Marlon Mack
RB2: Nyheim Hines (PPR only)
WR1: T.Y. Hilton
TE1: Eric Ebron
Flex: Dontrelle Inman, Chester Rogers
Bench: Jordan Wilkins

Passing Game Thoughts: One of the favorites to win the 2018 NFL MVP award, playing in his first full season, Patrick Mahomes now gets a chance to show what he’s made of in the playoffs as the Chiefs host the Colts this week. The Colts are coming off of a big game where they held Deshaun Watson and the Texans to just seven points with just 235 passing yards on the day, which has to be at least a bit concerning for those banking on Mahomes. Still, the Kansas City offense has been so good this season that it seems to be almost silly to worry about practically any matchup. Mahomes became just the third player in NFL history to throw for 50 touchdowns, which averages out to just over three touchdowns per game over the course of the season. With he, Tyreek Hill and Travis Kelce having the week off to rest and prepare for their next game, it would seem obvious that Mahomes - and really Hill and Kelce as well - should be the top players on the board at their respective positions this week. One thing to note is that wide receiver Sammy Watkins is also looking likely to return this week, at least in some capacity, after having been out since his Week 9 injury. Watkins is still heavily taped up and clearly not 100 percent, however, so don’t rely on him if you can avoid it.

IND FPts Allowed vs. QBs: No.22
IND FPts Allowed vs. RBs: No.22
IND FPts Allowed vs. WRs: No.30
IND FPts Allowed vs. TEs: No.5

Running Game Thoughts: One of the most interesting stories to watch this weekend will be the Kansas City Chiefs backfield, which has been recently led by Damien Williams but was previously almost exclusively owned by Spencer Ware. Ware missed each of the Chiefs’ final three games of the season which led to Williams stepping in and producing some impressive fantasy numbers including 203 rushing yards, 14 catches for 109 yards and four total touchdowns over those three games while Ware was out. It is believed that Ware will be back at least in some capacity this week, but we really don’t have a great gauge on what will happen. Andy Reid has historically often favored veterans even when they’ve been less productive than their younger counterparts, but that might not be the case with a player who the team doesn’t have much invested in with Spencer Ware, especially when he’s dealing with an injury. It does seem likely that Ware will get a full workload, so it’s probably best to avoid him in weekly formats, but Williams is also risky due to the potential that Ware plays enough snaps to really limit Williams’ upside. Still, there’s a chance that Ware primarily plays on early downs and limited snaps at that, which makes Williams an interesting boom-or-bust option this week and potentially a big time tournament player this week for DFS. The Colts didn’t give up a 100-yard rusher all season and were able to hold the Texans’ running backs to just 29 total rushing yards in the wild card round of the playoffs, so this is a worrisome matchup for whoever the Chiefs’ leading runner ends up being.

Value Meter:
QB1: Patrick Mahomes
RB2: Damien Williams
WR1: Tyreek Hill
TE1: Travis Kelce
Bench: Spencer Ware, Sammy Watkins, Chris Conley

Prediction: Chiefs 30, Colts 24 ^ Top

Cowboys at Rams - (Katz)
Line: LAR -7.0
Total: 49.5

Passing Game Thoughts: Jared Goff averaged 19.1 fantasy points per game this season. Yes, I just opened the Cowboys passing game section by talking about the other team’s quarterback. I feel like the consensus amongst fantasy gamers is that Goff had a much better season than Dak Prescott. Over Prescott’s final 10 games (excluding Week 17), he averaged 19.0 fantasy points per game. In full playoff formats, while Prescott is a nice contrarian play, it is exceedingly difficult to start him over anyone other than maybe Nick Foles. With that being said, the Cowboys are touchdown underdogs and will likely have to throw more than usual if they want to win this game.

Amari Cooper is coming off a nine target game where he caught seven balls for 106 yards. He’s a good bet to see 10+ targets this week, especially with all of the injuries to the Cowboys’ pass catchers. Allen Hurns’ season ended last week with a gruesome ankle injury. Cole Beasley is dealing with a sprained ankle as well. Both he and Blake Jarwin have yet to practice this week. In the playoffs, all bets are off for typical practice-play procedures, but it is difficult to imagine Beasley or Jarwin being too effective if they can’t practice this late in the week. Remember, this is a Saturday game so the injuries should open the door for Michael Gallup, who actually played 75% of the snaps last week. The Rams allowed 82.7 receiving yards per game to opposing WR1s this season, but if Beasley can’t go, Cooper may move to the slot, putting Gallup in a position to benefit. With all that being said, there are better options on most of the other teams remaining.

LAR FPts Allowed vs. QBs: No.15
LAR FPts Allowed vs. RBs: No.16
LAR FPts Allowed vs. WRs: No.12
LAR FPts Allowed vs. TEs: No.9

Running Game Thoughts: Where you won’t find many superior options on other teams is at running back. Ezekiel Elliott touched the ball 30 times last week and is game script proof due to his increased usage in the passing game. Zeke is not coming off the field unless he is tired so even if the Cowboys go down two scores, he will touch the ball through the air. That may be better for fantasy purposes. And we know he’s getting the goal line carries. Elliott is a do it all back and arguably a better play than his counterpart in this game (more on that momentarily).

Value Meter:
RB1: Ezekiel Elliott
WR4: Amari Cooper (values change in the playoffs and there are better options)
Bench: Dak Prescott, Michael Gallup, Blake Jarwin

Passing Game Thoughts: The way to beat the Cowboys is through the air. They are playing in this game literally because Pete Carroll is completely clueless when it comes to game planning and making adjustments. Sean McVay is already 1000x the coach that Carroll ever was and I fully believe he will come out throwing. That bodes extremely well for fantasy owners looking to use Goff as a way to gain an edge over the majority of owners that will be using Mahomes or Brees. Byron Jones is an elite shutdown corner and may give Brandin Cooks some trouble. Cooks is always a threat to splash at any moment, but the real star this week is going to be Robert Woods. The Cowboys have locked down outside receivers this season, but struggle against the slot and since Cooper Kupp’s injury, Woods has seen increased time in the slot. He’s also been used on reverses and jet sweeps. Woods is a key part of this offense and the path to breaking down the Cowboys defense. Despite all the star receivers at your disposal this week, get Woods in your lineup if you can.

DAL FPts Allowed vs. QBs: No.24
DAL FPts Allowed vs. RBs: No.25
DAL FPts Allowed vs. WRs: No.27
DAL FPts Allowed vs. TEs: No.12

Running Game Thoughts: Todd Gurley was completely erased by the best run defense in the league a few weeks back in Chicago. The Cowboys, while not as good as the Bears, are an excellent run defense, finishing top five in DVOA. Continuing on my point in the passing game, McVay is not going to make the same mistake twice. Gurley is still involved in the passing game so by no means am I expecting a disaster like he had against Chicago; I am merely cautioning that if you’re looking for 20+ points, Zeke (along with Alvin Kamara and possibly Damien Williams) might be better options.

Value Meter:
QB2: Jared Goff
RB2: Todd Gurley
WR2: Robert Woods
WR3: Brandin Cooks
Bench: Josh Reynolds

Prediction: Cowboys 27, Rams 24 ^ Top

Chargers @ Patriots - (Swanson)
Line: NE -4.0
Total: 47.5

Passing Game Thoughts: Philip Rivers threw for 160 yards and zero touchdowns as the Chargers beat the tough Baltimore defense on the road last week in the Wild Card round. Although Rivers failed to throw a touchdown pass for the second time this season against the Ravens, the Chargers defense picked up the slack, and the running game of Melvin Gordon and Austin Ekeler provided enough offense to survive and advance.

Rivers and the Chargers offense should find it much easier to move the ball this week against a New England defense that finished the regular season ranked 21st in yards per game (359.1). By comparison, the Ravens allowed a league-best 292.9 yards per game and 42 fewer points than the Patriots.

Opposing quarterbacks averaged 22.5 fantasy points per game against the Patriots this season, with four QBs, including Patrick Mahomes and Andrew Luck, topping 30 points in their respective game. As one would expect of a Bill Belichick-led team, the Pats did an excellent job limiting the production of below-average and rookie quarterbacks like Sam Darnold, Josh Allen, Nathan Peterman, and Brock Osweiler. While veteran signal callers, like Ben Roethlisberger, Andrew Luck, Aaron Rodgers, and Matthew Stafford, found moderate success moving the ball and limiting turnovers.

A key to this game will be Rivers ability to limit turnovers in the passing game and giving Tom Brady and the Patriot offense short fields. Rivers is tied with Cam Newton and Nick Mullens for the most interceptions thrown over the final five games of the regular season (six), and the 14-year veteran threw half of his season total of picks in his last four games.

Another player to watch is receiver Mike Williams against cornerback Jason McCourty on deep passes and explosive plays. New England ranks 20th in explosive pass rate allowed according to Sharp Football, and the Chargers will look to take advantage of the smaller McCourty lined up against the 6’4” Williams.

Tight End Hunter Henry practiced all week and is expected to play. It is unclear how many snaps he will get, but he will add a more athletic option at tight end for Rivers, especially on nine routes up the seam between the linebackers and safety. Future hall of fame TE Antonio Gates has been solid this season, but he lacks the speed and quickness to beat linebackers on go routes and slants.

The opening week bye for New England allowed the Patriots to rest and heal up for Sunday’s game. Only safety Devin McCourty is listed on the injury report with a concussion, but he was able to practice on Wednesday and should be ready to play this weekend.

NE FPts Allowed vs. QBs: No.12
NE FPts Allowed vs. RBs: No.21
NE FPts Allowed vs. WRs: No.21
NE FPts Allowed vs. TEs: No.15

Running Game Thoughts: Melvin Gordon rushed for 885 yards and 10 rushing touchdowns on 175 carries this season for an impressive 5.1 yard per carry average. The former first-round pick from the University of Wisconsin added a career-high 490 receiving yards and four touchdowns in just 12 games.

Gordon is an elite back for both fantasy and real life football, and one of the more dynamic scoring threats in the NFL. The problem is he suffered an MCL sprain against Arizona Week 12 and missed three games from Weeks 13 through 15. When he returned to the field against Baltimore Week 16 he scored a rushing touchdown, but he does not look as explosive as earlier in the season, especially with regards to lateral movement and the ability to explode out of cuts.

To make matters worse for the Chargers, Gordon sustained an injury to his other knee last week against the Ravens. Gordon did return to the game and does appear primed to start against the Patriots, but don’t be surprised if he is limited and Ekeler is used more than usual.

Only the Bears allowed fewer rushing touchdowns than the Patriots this season, and only Kerryon Johnson of the Lions and Jaylen Samuels of the Steelers have rushed for more than 100 yards against the Pats in 2018.

One area that running backs did find success this year against the Pats and something that the Chargers will no doubt look to exploit is passing yards out of the backfield. New England ranked 9th in receiving yards to running backs, while the Chargers as a team led the league in receiving yards among running backs. Ekeler and Gordon in the passing game will be critical for the Chargers to go into Foxboro and beat the Pats.

Value Meter:
QB1: Philip Rivers (Mid-Range
RB1: Melvin Gordon (High-End)
WR1: Keenan Allen (High-End)
WR2: Mike Williams (Low-End)
TE1: Hunter Henry/Antonio Gates (Mid-Range)

Passing Game Thoughts: Tom Brady is set to start his NFL record 38th playoff game for the Patriots. A win over the Chargers would give the first ballot hall of fame 28 wins by a quarterback, breaking another of his many records. To put it in perspective, Brady has started more playoff games than the seven remaining quarterbacks in the playoffs combined.

From a fantasy perspective, Brady was a disappointment this season with 21.8 fantasy points per game as the No.17 ranked QB. His 29 touchdown passes were the fewest in a 16 game season since 2013, while his 11 interceptions were the most committed in the previous five seasons.

The New England offense did finish as the No.5 ranked unit in yards per game and fourth in total points behind the Chiefs, Rams, and Saints. The chess match between Brady and offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels against Los Angeles defensive coordinator Gus Bradley will be fun to watch. Bradley showed his skill and flexibility as a DC last week by using four safeties instead of linebackers to shut down the running game of Lamar Jackson and the Ravens.

Tight end Rob Gronkowski finished 2018 with the lowest fantasy point-per-game average of his illustrious career (6.6), with just 682 yards and three touchdowns in 13 games. Gronk no longer moves with the same quickness and is clearly hampered by a slew of injuries. Despite this fact, he could be critical to the success of the Patriots on Sunday, particularly in his ability to negate the aggressive play of safety Derwin James in run support. James will likely be tasked with covering Gronk in the passing game, and Gronk’s success beating the Chargers and James on play action could help negate one of the best young defensive players in the league.

The cornerback tandem of Casey Hayward and Michael Davis allowed the fifth-fewest points to opposing wide receivers this season and only 14 total touchdowns in 16 games. The loss of Josh Gordon to another off-field issue left the Patriots without a big and fast weapon on the outside to push the field and keep safeties honest. Look for Hayward and Davis to be asked to play single coverage on Chris Hogan and Phillip Dorsett on the outside, with Adrian Phillips and Jahleel Addae tasted with covering Julian Edelman in the slot.

Arguably the most critical aspect of the game will be the ability of Joey Bosa and Melvin Ingram to get pressure on Brady without Bradley resorting to blitzing. The Giants in years past gave teams the blueprint on how to beat Brady and the Patriots with pressure from the front four, and the Chargers have the players and the scheme to run with that blueprint and upset New England on the road.

LAC FPts Allowed vs. QBs: No.26
LAC FPts Allowed vs. RBs: No.11
LAC FPts Allowed vs. WRs: No.28
LAC FPts Allowed vs. TEs: No.20

Running Game Thoughts: This divisional playoff matchup pits two of the two top- three rushing offenses in the league against each other, with the No.2, ranked Chargers and Melvin Gordon facing off against Sony Michel, and James White and the No.3 ranked Patriot attack.

Not only did the Patriots finish as a top-10 unit in terms of total rushing yards, but they were also the No.1 team in passes to running backs out of the backfield, with seven more receptions than the No.2 ranked Carolina Panthers.

Look for Brady to use quick dump off passes as screens to White and Rex Burkhead to help mitigate the pass rush of Bosa and Ingram. The Patriots likely anticipate having limited time for Brady to pass going against the pass rush of the Chargers so that Brady will use a quick passing game to Edelman in the slot and White/Burkhead out of the backfield.

The one main Achilles heel for the Chargers defense is run defense. Los Angeles ended 2018 allowing the 11-most point to opposing running backs, with 11 opposing backs reaching double figures in fantasy points. Look for Belichick to focus on running the ball with Michel and Burkhead against the middle of the Chargers defense and on counters and delayed draws in passing downs. The Chargers will look to limit the Patriots and force them into third and long plays that allow their stud pass rushers to get after Brady. Conversely, the Patriots will look to run quick passing plays and run the ball effectively to stay ahead of the chains and mitigate the need for their receivers to get downfield.

Value Meter:
QB1: Tom Brady (Mid-Range)
RB1: Sony Michel (Low-End)
WR1: Julian Edelman (Low-End)
WR3: Chris Hogan (Low-End)
TE: Rob Gronkowski (High-End)
Flex: James White (High-End)

Prediction: Patriots 28, Chargers 21 ^ Top

Eagles @ Saints - (Bales)
Line: NO -8.0
Total: 51.0

Passing Game Thoughts: The Saints have struggled to defend the pass this season, allowing 269.0 passing yards per game. They have also allowed 30 passing touchdowns, while recording only 12 interceptions. Nick Foles has performed well in six games this season, averaging 279.8 yards and 1.5 touchdowns on 39.2 pass attempts per game. He has looked particularly good in his last three games, totaling 958 yards and eight touchdowns on 122 attempts.

Alshon Jeffery has only played four games with Foles this season, but they have found quite a bit of success together. In those four games, Jeffery is averaging 5.5 receptions for 95.8 yards and 0.3 touchdowns on 6.8 targets per game. Over the last three weeks Nelson Agholor has totaled 13 receptions for 188 yards and three touchdowns on 19 targets. He was able to score 20+ fantasy points in two of those three games, as well. Golden Tate hasn’t seen as many targets as most were expecting when he was traded, but he posted a 5/46/1 line on eight targets last weekend and gets an elite matchup this weekend.

Zach Ertz has been one of the best tight ends in the NFL, averaging 7.1 receptions for 71.5 yards and 0.5 touchdowns on 9.6 targets per game. New Orleans has only given up 5 TDs to the position, but Ertz still makes an elite option. Dallas Goedert has been playing a larger role in the offense recently, but he’s still a risky option against a team that has looked outstanding against tight ends.

NO FPts Allowed vs. QBs: No.3
NO FPts Allowed vs. RBs: No.30
NO FPts Allowed vs. WRs: No.1
NO FPts Allowed vs. TEs: No.26

Running Game Thoughts: New Orleans has featured one of the best run defenses in the NFL this season, allowing only 80.2 rushing yards per game. They have allowed 12 rushing touchdowns, but their 3.6 yards per carry is one of the lowest in the league. Darren Sproles, Wendell Smallwood, and Josh Adams are splitting snaps, and they are taking away each other’s value although Adams was an afterthought last week seeing just one carry. Sproles makes the best option of the trio, but he comes with far too much risk to be considered in this difficult of a matchup.

Value Meter:
QB1: Nick Foles (low-end)
WR2: Alshon Jeffery (mid-range)
WR3: Nelson Agholor
TE1: Zach Ertz (high-end)
Flex: Golden Tate (high risk)
Bench: Darren Sproles, Wendell Smallwood

Passing Game Thoughts: The Eagles are another defense that has struggled against the pass this season. They’re allowing 269.0 passing yards per game, while also allowing 22 passing touchdowns. Furthermore, they have only recorded 10 interceptions. Drew Brees has been one of the best quarterbacks in the NFL, specifically when playing at home. Through seven home games, Brees is averaging 321.6 yards and 3.0 touchdowns on 33.7 attempts per game. He also threw for 363 yards and four touchdowns on only 30 pass attempts in his only matchup against Philadelphia this season.

Michael Thomas has enjoyed an elite season, and he has also found quite a bit of success at home. Through eight home games, he’s averaging 8.5 receptions for 102.8 yards and 0.8 touchdowns on 10.0 targets per game. In his only game back from injury, Ted Ginn posted a 5/74/0 line on eight targets, and he should resume his normal role again this week. Tre’Quan Smith will also find snaps in this game, but he has been far too inconsistent to be considered in fantasy. The same can be said for tight end Ben Watson, who has struggled to find a role in the offense.

PHI FPts Allowed vs. QBs: No.9
PHI FPts Allowed vs. RBs: No.23
PHI FPts Allowed vs. WRs: No.5
PHI FPts Allowed vs. TEs: No.29

Running Game Thoughts: Mark Ingram has featured plenty of ups and downs, averaging 68.0 yards and 0.6 touchdowns on 13.3 touchdowns per game. He’s a touchdown dependent running back, but New Orleans is expected to score multiple touchdowns in this game. Alvin Kamara is the better option out of the backfield. Through 15 games, he’s averaging 106.2 yards and 1.2 touchdowns on 18.3 touches (5.4 receptions) per game. Kamara is a matchup proof running back because of his ability to produce in the passing game. On top of his rushing success, he’s averaging 7.0 targets per game. Philadelphia has looked great against the run, allowing only 96.9 rushing yards per game. They have allowed 14 rushing touchdowns which bodes well for Kamara and Ingram.

Value Meter:
QB1: Drew Brees (elite)
RB1: Alvin Kamara (elite)
RB2: Mark Ingram (high risk)
WR1: Michael Thomas (elite)
Flex: Ted Ginn Jr.

Prediction: Saints 31, Eagles 21 ^ Top