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Inside the Matchup

Divisional Round

By: Andy Swanson | Jason Katz | Nick Caron | HC Green




CLE @ KC | TB @ NO

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

Rams @ Packers - (Green)
Line: GB -7.0
Total: 45.5

Passing Game Thoughts: Sean McVay turned to John Wolford (neck) to start the team's Wild Card matchup with the Seahawks last Saturday, but the Wake Forest product was knocked from the game early on by a hit from Jamal Adams and did not return. Wolford was unable to practice and has been ruled out for this week, so Jared Goff (thumb) will be under center in the Division Round. Goff, who had thumb surgery after Week 16, completed 9 of his 19 passes for 155 yards and a TD in Seattle, and he's clearly operating at less than 100 percent.

Cooper Kupp (4-78) was the leading receiver last weekend, but he checked out late with a knee injury that was later diagnosed as bursitis. He hasn't practiced this week and may be a game-time decision, though his questionable status suggests that Kupp will be active. How much he'll play, and how effective he'll be in the cold, are less clear. Robert Woods (4-48-1) figures to see plenty of looks regardless, though if Kupp is reduced that could mean more of a focus for Woods, who led the team in touchdown receptions this season. Tyler Higbee and Gerald Everett could also see expanded roles depending on Kupp's status/effectiveness.

Green Bay finished seventh in the NFL in passing yards allowed, giving up 221.2 per game, and 10th in sacks. This is a group that improved quite a bit as the season wore on behind the emergence of Jaire Alexander, who was named a Second Team All-Pro, and the suddenly impactful safety combo of Darnell Savage and Adrian Amos. That group, along with a solid pass rush, is likely to push LA's focus toward the rushing attack.

GB FPts Allowed vs. QBs: No.28
GB FPts Allowed vs. RBs: No.5
GB FPts Allowed vs. WRs: No.30
GB FPts Allowed vs. TEs: No.29

Running Game Thoughts: In many ways, Cam Akers (28-131-1) was the Rams' offense against the Seahawks, accounting for 176 of the team's 333 total yards. Malcom Brown (9-30) saw some work as the hammer late in that one, but Akers figures to be the focal point of LA's game plan. The Packers finished 13th in the NFL against the run (112.8 yards per game) but looked better down the stretch, holding Derrick Henry to less than 100 yards in Week 16 and a red-hot David Montgomery to 3.1 YPC in the finale.

Value Meter:
QB2: Jared Goff (inj)
RB1: Cam Akers
WR1: Robert Woods
WR2: Cooper Kupp (inj)
TE1: Tyler Higbee

Passing Game Thoughts: When last we saw Aaron Rodgers he was completing 19 of his 24 passes for 240 yards, four touchdowns and no INTs in a Week 17 win over the Bears that locked up the NFC's top seed. Rodgers was surgical until Marquez Valdes-Scantling dropped what should've been a long TD pass; that seemed to rattle the offense, and the veteran threw a couple of passes that were nearly intercepted. He got things turned around eventually and led a pair of late touchdown drives that put the game away.

Davante Adams (6-46-1) drew a lot of attention from the Bears, and the result was a pretty quiet game where his longest gain was nine yards. That attention opened things up elsewhere, though, with Valdes-Scantling (2-87-1) leading the team in yardage despite the aforementioned drop. Robert Tonyan (2-18-1) also scored, giving him 11 TDs on the season. Allen Lazard (2-17) continued his quiet second half as he wasn't nearly as productive after returning from core muscle surgery.

As good as the Packers' passing attack has been, the Rams have the elements in place to make it tough on them. Aaron Donald (ribs) is the best in the business, and though he departed the Seattle game with a rib injury he's expected to play on Saturday. Jalen Ramsey figures to shadow Adams, at least out wide, and he's among the game's top cornerbacks. The Rams led the NFL in passing yards (190.7 per game) and finished second in sacks (53), so this is strength on strength.

LAR FPts Allowed vs. QBs: No.32
LAR FPts Allowed vs. RBs: No.28
LAR FPts Allowed vs. WRs: No.32
LAR FPts Allowed vs. TEs: No.21

Running Game Thoughts: Aaron Jones (11-42-1) didn't have the huge TD numbers in 2020 than he did in 2019, but he gained 20 more yards on 35 fewer carries as his YPC went from 4.6 to 5.5. If the Packers want a more physical approach they could call on Jamaal Williams (5-26) as a between-the-tackles bruiser. The Rams finished third in run defense (91.3 yards per game) but allowed 136 yards and 5.4 YPC against Seattle, so we could see more touches from Jones and/or Williams to help keep No. 12 upright.

Value Meter:
QB1: Aaron Rodgers
RB1: Aaron Jones
Flex: Jamaal Williams
WR1: Davante Adams
Flex: Marquez Valdes-Scantling
TE1: Robert Tonyan

Prediction: Packers 27, Rams 16 ^ Top

Ravens at Bills - (Katz)
Line: BUF -2.5
Total: 49.5

Passing Game Thoughts: It feels like it’s all coming together for the Ravens at the right time. Ever since Lamar Jackson’s return from Covid, he’s posted QB1 numbers every single week. Last week against the Titans, Jackson had his best rushing game of the season with 136 yards on 16 attempts. Against an explosive Bills offense, Jackson will have to continue putting up numbers.

Could this finally be the Hollywood Brown breakout we’ve been waiting all season for? While Jackson set season highs in rushing last week, Brown posted season highs in receptions (7) and yards (109). In addition to the downfield targets, Jackson was taking what was given more often when Brown was given a large cushion.

However, where the Bills are really vulnerable is against the tight end. The Bills allowed the highest percentage of receiving yards against them to go to the tight end position in the NFL at 25.16%. Mark Andrews has been just another tight end this season, but with only eight teams remaining, Travis Kelce is the only tight end I’d prefer to Andrews. After Hollywood and Andrews, the Ravens’ third leading receiver last week was fullback Patrick Ricard. Willie Snead, Miles Boykin, and Dez Bryant belong nowhere near fantasy lineups.

BUF FPts Allowed vs. QBs: No.18
BUF FPts Allowed vs. RBs: No.18
BUF FPts Allowed vs. WRs: No.29
BUF FPts Allowed vs. TEs: No.7

Running Game Thoughts: J.K. Dobbins is now up to seven consecutive games with a touchdown. Despite Gus Edwards being the bigger and more straight line running back, Dobbins has been the guy at the goal line and there’s no reason to expect that to change. The Bills struggled to contain the Colts’ running backs last week. While Dobbins is still playing around 50% of the snaps, he’s definitely the lead back. With that being said, he’s almost entirely touchdown dependent as Jackson does not throw to running backs. Dobbins has two receptions in his last six games. In full length playoff leagues, hopefully you have other running backs to start over Dobbins. In one and done formats, you are likely better off going with backs on teams more likely to lose. Edwards is basically Dobbins without the touchdowns.

Value Meter:
QB1: Lamar Jackson
WR3: Marquise Brown
TE1: Mark Andrews
Bench: J.K. Dobbins, Gus Edwards

Passing Game Thoughts: There’s a legitimate argument to be made that Josh Allen is the second best quarterback in the NFL. He’s been that good this season and he did it again last week with another masterful performance in a close win over the Colts. The Ravens have become a bit of a pass funnel defense. It’s hard to gauge because they faced so many weak opponents, but last week they shut down Derrick Henry and couldn’t really stop A.J. Brown. The Bills do not even pretend to have any semblance of a competent running game. They know where their bread is buttered and it’s with Allen and their receivers, particularly Stefon Diggs. You can’t make a top five wide receiver list from 2020 and leave Diggs off it. Diggs’ 128 receiving yards last week was actually his second lowest total of his past five games.

John Brown is technically the Bills’ WR2, but he didn’t catch a pass last week. He’s impossible to trust, especially since he’s been consistently outplayed by Cole Beasley and Gabriel Davis. Beasley played through injury last week and was his usual effective self. Meanwhile, Davis is quickly proving to be a super talent to Brown. I’d prefer Davis to Brown this week.

Dawson Knox is good for a catch or two per game and possibly a touchdown, but unless you’re forced to start him due to the nature of your playoff league draft, there are multiple better options this week and going forward. This game should be a high scoring affair with two prolific offenses and we know the Bills are a throw first, throw second offense. In a week where the chalk plays are going to be Chiefs and Packers, pivoting to Bills’ offensive players is a savvy move.

BAL FPts Allowed vs. QBs: No.23
BAL FPts Allowed vs. RBs: No.20
BAL FPts Allowed vs. WRs: No.22
BAL FPts Allowed vs. TEs: No.15

Running Game Thoughts: There may actually be some value in Devin Singletary this week now that Zack Moss’ postseason is over. It goes without saying that injuries are awful and I would never wish an injury on any player. But, the Bills are a better team without Moss on the field. He’s a sub-replacement level running back and inferior to Singletary in every way. It’s likely that Antonio Williams sees playing time after showing well in Week 17 as the third running back, but it’s equally as likely that Singletary sees a snap share over 60%.

The matchup is not great against a defense that just shut down Derrick Henry, but it’s important to note that the reason the Ravens were able to succeed against the Titans was because they knew if they sold out to stop Henry, the Titans would keep trying to make it work. The Bills will not do that. Moss and Singletary combined for 10 carries last week. Josh Allen threw the ball 35 times and ran it 11 times himself. If you start Singletary, you’re hoping for a few dump offs and possibly a touchdown. Going through this analysis, you can quickly see that the initial intrigue of Singletary having this backfield potentially to himself has faded.

Value Meter:
QB1: Josh Allen
WR1: Stefon Diggs
WR3: Cole Beasley
Bench: Gabriel Davis, Devin Singletary, Dawson Knox

Prediction: Ravens 31, Bills 27

Browns at Chiefs - (Caron)
Line: KC -10.0
Total: 57.0

Passing Game Thoughts: A surprisingly inspired early-game defensive effort from the Browns led to a light day for quarterback Baker Mayfield this past week as his team soared past the Steelers into the divisional round of the playoffs. Mayfield did end up throwing the ball 34 times for 263 yards and three touchdowns without a turnover, so it was a great afternoon for him overall, but it’s also worth noting that he was not put in a particularly difficult situation as the Steelers defense was forced to sell out in an attempt to stop the run as the Browns attempted to extend drives and run out as much clock as they could.

Things should be a little more challenging - or at least we should expect that Mayfield will be relied upon a bit more in a road game against the top seed in the AFC, the Kansas City Chiefs. The Chiefs pass defense hasn’t been great this season, ranking eighth-worst in fantasy points given up to opposing quarterbacks during the regular season. Perhaps most interestingly is that they’ve seemed to struggle more down the stretch than they did early in the season. They conceded eight straight multi-touchdown passing days to opposing QBs in their final eight games after allowing multiple touchdowns through the air just twice through their first eight games. It wasn’t just touchdowns, either - the Chiefs also gave up five 300-yard passing days over their final eight games after just two through the first eight games. Certainly schedule played a factor, but the truth is that the Chiefs were ahead quite often on the scoreboard down the stretch and that led to a lot of pass-heavy offensive strategies from their opponents.

While this isn’t what the Browns offense is built to do, there’s a good chance that they’re going to end up passing more heavily against the Chiefs than they normally do. Because of that, we have to consider Baker Mayfield a stronger fantasy play than he was going into the Steelers matchup - one in which he performed fairly well. But one interesting matchup to take note of is that the Chiefs have struggled quite a bit to contain tight ends this season, particularly late in the regular season. Kansas City allowed four receiving touchdowns to opposing tight ends over their final four games and a total of six scores to the position over their final seven games. The only truly top-level fantasy performer they faced during that stretch was Darren Waller, who beat them for seven catches, 77 yards and a touchdown. While he was certainly a fantasy disappointment overall this season, this is a great on-paper matchup for Austin Hooper. Hooper led the team with seven catches on 11 targets in the wild card game and he also scored a touchdown. Given the positional scarcity and that quite a few of the top talents are missing in the playoffs, Hooper is a legitimate top five option at the position this week.

Aside from Hooper, there are only really two pass catching weapons of note in Cleveland - outside wide receiver Rashard Higgins and slot receiver Jarvis Landry. Higgins has been decent down the stretch, but he’s not much of a fantasy asset. He could be considered a WR3 or Flex option but his floor is too low for him to be anything more than that. Landry, meanwhile, has to be a top 10 option for the week. He performed well against the Steelers and finished the season with five straight double-digit PPR fantasy days. If the Browns end up having to throw to keep up on the scoreboard then expect Landry to approach a 10-target day.

KC FPts Allowed vs. QBs: No.11
KC FPts Allowed vs. RBs: No.11
KC FPts Allowed vs. WRs: No.31
KC FPts Allowed vs. TEs: No.8

Running Game Thoughts: Perhaps the best overall running game remaining in the playoffs, the Browns will almost certainly need big contributions from running backs Nick Chubb and Kareem Hunt if they hope to walk away with another victory as underdogs. The Browns backs ran the ball a total of 26 times against the Steelers this past week, adding an additional five touches in the passing game, and they scored a total of three touchdowns as a duo. We know that, unlike most split backfields, the Browns backs are actually capable of producing multiple solid fantasy performances within the same game.

Chubb is certainly still the primary ball carrier as he has touched the ball at least 14 times in nine straight games since returning from injury, while Hunt has had to be a bit more efficient with his touches. Hunt has, however, typically been the more active player in the passing game which continues to help him in PPR formats and that might end up being an important aspect of this week’s contest against the Chiefs.

Opposing teams typically need to lean heavily on their passing games to keep up with the Chiefs, so there’s a real possibility that this is more of a 50-50 touch split than it normally is between the two backs. Unless the Browns get ahead on the scoreboard early like they did against Pittsburgh, then a 20-carry day for Chubb is almost completely out of the question. Not many backs left in the playoffs are delivering that type of touch upside anyway, but it’s something that could limit Chubb just a bit this week in comparison to how we normally view him.

Value Meter:
QB2: Baker Mayfield
RB1: Nick Chubb
RB2: Kareem Hunt
WR1: Jarvis Landry (low-end)
TE1: Austin Hooper (low-end)
Flex: Rashard Higgins (low-end)
Bench: David Njoku, Harrison Bryant

Passing Game Thoughts: Potential NFL MVP Patrick Mahomes had another tremendous fantasy season this year and it should come as no surprise that he’ll be the top quarterback on most fantasy rankings this week. The Chiefs are double-digit Vegas favorites against the Browns and Cleveland is coming off of a game in which they allowed over 500 yards and four passing touchdowns to Ben Roethlisberger. Of course, an unexpected early game lead meant that the Steelers were passing early and often against the Browns, and Cleveland did force an impressive four interceptions, but it’s still worth noting that Pittsburgh made it interesting by practically exclusively relying on their passing game against this Cleveland defense.

A much more efficient passing game, Kansas City should have no problems moving the ball through the air this week. The Browns gave up the seventh-most fantasy points to opposing quarterbacks during the regular season and they gave up five separate 300-yard passing performances to the position on the year prior to their 500-yard embarrassment this past week.

With Mahomes considered the top QB on the board, it makes sense that tight end Travis Kelce is again the consensus TE1. Kelce had another Hall of Fame-level season in 2020 and there’s nothing to be worried about in this matchup. Wide receiver Tyreek Hill should also be looked at as perhaps the top wide receiver on the board. He has a bit more competition than Kelce does at his position from the likes of Davante Adams and Stefon Diggs, but Hill has been an incredibly consistent and high-producing fantasy asset all season. He’ll be a strong bet to get into the end zone against this bad Cleveland pass defense.

With Sammy Watkins missing practice and looking less and less likely to be active, there’s a possibility that we could see additional playing time from other wide receivers in this offense, specifically second-year WR Mecole Hardman. Hardman is a low volume player who typically needs a long score to be worth anything from a fantasy standpoint, but he’s capable of delivering that in good matchups like this and he should have additional opportunities if Watkins is out.

CLE FPts Allowed vs. QBs: No.7
CLE FPts Allowed vs. RBs: No.26
CLE FPts Allowed vs. WRs: No.12
CLE FPts Allowed vs. TEs: No.4

Running Game Thoughts: Rookie Clyde Edwards-Helaire missed practice again this week and could again be out for this pivotal divisional round playoff game. Even if he is active, Edwards-Helaire would almost certainly split time with veteran Le’Veon Bell, so his fantasy value is somewhat limited in any event, but it’s something we need to pay attention to closely leading up to game time.

If Edwards-Helaire is out, Bell should again operate as the team’s primary back, perhaps conceding some touches to Darrel Williams. Bell is, however, the better pass catcher and will likely see at least a dozen touches in the event that Edwards-Helaire is out. That doesn’t necessarily make him a high-level fantasy asset, however, as he has not been particularly efficient with his touches this season and there’s a real chance that Williams ends up seeing enough touches to cap Bell’s upside.

Cleveland has been significantly better against opposing running games than they have passing games this season and that plays right into Kansas City’s offensive advantage anyway, so look for this to be a Mahomes-heavy day. You can consider Edwards-Helaire a Flex if he’s active, otherwise Bell takes his place in that Flex role.

Value Meter:
QB1: Patrick Mahomes (high-end)
WR1: Tyreek Hill (high-end)
TE1: Travis Kelce (high-end)
Flex: Clyde Edwards-Helaire, Le’Veon Bell (if Edwards-Helaire is out), Mecole Hardman (if Watkins is out)
Bench: Darrel Williams, Darwin Thompson, Sammy Watkins, Demarcus Robinson

Prediction: Chiefs 34, Browns 26

Bucs @ Saints - (Swanson)
Line: NO -3.0
Total: 51.5

Passing Game Thoughts: The Bucs head to the Super Dome to take on the Saints for a third time this season. Tom Brady and the Tampa Bay offense struggled in both games this season against Dennis Allen’s defensive unit, including a 38-3 beatdown in Tampa Bay in Week 9.

In that game, Brady threw three interceptions and no touchdowns to finish with 10.5 fantasy points. Brady threw a total of five interceptions in the two games vs. the Saints but did manage 26.9 points in Week 1 with the help of a rushing touchdown.

Brady has been up and down this season, playing his best games against below-average defenses like the Falcons and Lions while struggling against elite defenses like the Rams, Saints, and Bears.

The recipe to beat Brady and the Bucs is simple. If you get pressure on him with your front four, he will not be able to avoid sacks and will force bad passes. It is what the Giants did to Brady in their two Super Bowl wins over the Patriots, and it is what the Saints and the Rams did to him this year.

The key matchup in this game is the front four of the Saints against the Bucs offensive line. The Bucs lost starting guard Alex Cappa in the Wild Card win over the Football Team, as Capp suffered a fractured ankle. Although the team already lost center A.Q. Shipley earlier this year, ranks them as the No.5 offensive line this season, with rookie Tristan Wirfs playing at a pro bowl level and guard Ali Marpet as one of the highest-rated guards in the league.

A matchup to watch is David Onyemata and Malcolm Brown going against backup guard Aaron Stinnie. The game may be won or lost based on Stinnie’s ability to protect Brady up the middle with center Ryan Jensen.

No other team has given up fewer fantasy points to opposing running backs than the Saints, a team that held Tampa Bay to just nine rushing yards back in Week 9. So, we expect the Bucs to attack the Saints with quick passes to wide receivers and tight ends to take advantage of New Orleans’ average secondary and limit pressure on Brady.

From a DFS perspective, Antonio Brown is someone who could have a monster game and is a relatively solid value at $5,400 compared to Stefon Diggs and Tyreek Hill, who are at $7,300 and $8,000 respectively. Brown has a touchdown in four straight games dating back to Week 15 against the Falcons.

NO FPts Allowed vs. QBs: No.25
NO FPts Allowed vs. RBs: No.32
NO FPts Allowed vs. WRs: No.20
NO FPts Allowed vs. TEs: No.13

Running Game Thoughts: There is very little to like with regards to the Tampa Bay running game in this matchup. Although Leonard Fournette did post his second-best game as a Buc last week against the Football Team, with 132 total yards and a score on 23 touches, the Saints boast the league’s best run defense and all but shut down the Bucs in both matchups this season.

It looks as though Fournette will once again be the main back for Tom Brady and the offense with Ronald Jones still questionable with a quad injury. Per Rick Stroud of the Tampa Bay Times, Jones did not practice in the media portion of practice on Wednesday and was limited on Thursday.

Value Meter:
QB1: Tom Brady (High-End)
RB2: Leonard Fournette (Low-End)
WR1: Mike Evans (High-End)
WR2: Chris Godwin (High-End)
WR2: Antonio Brown (High-End)
TE1: Rob Gronkowski (Low-End)

Passing Game Thoughts: Like their opponent, the way to beat the Bucs is through the air and not on the ground. This will not stop the Saints from trying to keep Alvin Kamara heavily active in the run game, but it is likely that Super Kamario will find more success as a receiver out of the backfield than as a runner.

In what could be the final game of the first-ballot Hall of Fame career for Drew Brees, the Saints will need their veteran signal-caller to pick apart the young and aggressive Tampa Bay secondary like he did in Weeks 1 and 9.

Brees combined for six passing touchdowns and zero interceptions in his two games this season against Tom Bowles’ defense. A pretty impressive feat when you consider that his top wide receiver, Michael Thomas, injured his ankle in the first game against Tampa Bay and did not play when the Saints demolished the Bucs back in Week 9.

From an injury standpoint, the Saints will not have starting center Nick Easton, who was placed on injured reserve on January 9th with a concussion. Second-year center Erik McCoy will start in Easton’s place, although the team could move rookie guard Cesar Ruiz to center as well.

On a positive note, the team could get back WR Tre’Quan Smith from injured reserve. Smith has been out with an ankle injury.

A played to watch is speedy WR Deonte Harris, who has been sparingly used up to this point perform catching a career-high seven passes for 83 yards last week against the Bears. Harris could be an x-factor in this game and someone who is a great low-cost target in DFS.

TB FPts Allowed vs. QBs: No.16
TB FPts Allowed vs. RBs: No.29
TB FPts Allowed vs. WRs: No.11
TB FPts Allowed vs. TEs: No.10

Running Game Thoughts: Only the Saints have given up fewer fantasy points to running backs this season than the Buccaneers, a team that gave up just one rushing performance of over 100 yards and just one rushing touchdown in the final five weeks of the season.

Even the great Alvin Kamara struggled against the Backs back in Week 9, with just 49 total yards on five carries, but he did manage to reach the end zone.

Look for Kamara to have a similar line in this game. Not great, and certainly nowhere near what he did to the Vikings back on Christmas Day, but a solid game of around 75 total yards and a score.

Latavius Murray is questionable with a thigh injury but looks to be on track to play. Murray should give Kamara some change of pace and opportunities to rest, but he is not someone who we think will have a large impact on the outcome.

Value Meter:
QB1: Drew Brees (Low-End)
RB1: Alvin Kamara (High-End)
WR1: Michael Thomas (High-End)
WR3: Emmanuel Sanders (High-End)
WR3: Deonte Harris (High-End)
TE1: Jared Cook (Low-End)

Prediction: New Orleans 34, Tampa Bay 28