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Inside the Matchup

Divisional Round

By: Andy Swanson | Ken Ilchuk | Nick Caron | HC Green





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

Bengals @ Titans - (Green)
Line: TEN -3.5
Total: 47.0

Passing Game Thoughts: Forget about style points for a moment and think about this -- the last time the Bengals won a playoff game it was over the Houston Oilers... nearly six years before Joe Burrow was born. With that out of the way, let’s acknowledge that it was probably tougher than it should’ve been against a middling Raiders club that made the playoffs by winning their final four games by a combined 12 points. Burrow was solid in his postseason debut but not spectacular, completing 24 of 34 passes for 244 yards and 2 TDs, though he avoided big mistakes, unlike counterpart Derek Carr.

As he has been for much of his rookie year, Ja’Marr Chase was the star offensively, hauling in nine of his 12 targets for 116 yards. In a new wrinkle, he also ran three times for 23 yards, exceeding his regular season total of 21 yards. While Chase continued his strong play from down the stretch, Tee Higgins scuffled in his playoff debut, making just one catch for 10 yards -- both of which represented his lowest output to date. Veteran Tyler Boyd posted a 4-26-1 line in the win; he was also on the receiving end of the controversial TD that came after the officials had blown their whistle, which should’ve resulted in the down being replayed.

Tennessee finished the year ranked 25th in the NFL in pass defense at 245.2 yards per game allowed. The week off should allow their pass rush to be rested and ready to go after they ended the year with 43 sacks, which tied for ninth. Despite Higgins’ struggles, all three wideouts and Burrow remain quality options this Saturday. In addition, C.J. Uzomah (6-64-1), who has been a fringe choice for much of the season, has been targeted at least six times in five of his last six games and is a decent play.

TEN FPts Allowed vs. QBs: No.10
TEN FPts Allowed vs. RBs: No.31
TEN FPts Allowed vs. WRs: No.2
TEN FPts Allowed vs. TEs: No.28

Running Game Thoughts: Aside from Higgins, it was Joe Mixon that had the most disappointing day statistically against the Raiders, managing just 48 yards on his 17 carries (2.8 YPC). He did add 28 yards on four receptions, but it was still a middling effort versus a Las Vegas squad that wasn’t among the league’s best. Tennessee was, however, allowing just two more total yards than the Ravens to finish second in the NFL at 84.6 per game. Expect tough sledding for Mixon in the Divisional Round.

Value Meter:
QB1: Joe Burrow
RB1: Joe Mixon
WR1: Ja’Marr Chase
WR2: Tee Higgins
WR2: Tyler Boyd
TE1: C.J. Uzomah
Bench: Samaje Perine

Passing Game Thoughts: Easily the biggest mystery of the weekend slate is what the Titans offense will look like, and that’s because of the status of Derrick Henry (foot), who hasn’t played since Halloween due to a foot injury. If he’s good to go, you’d expect the offense to once again flow through the star back; if not, look for more Ryan Tannehill. After hitting a rough patch in November, the veteran closed with three solid showings in a row that featured 616 combined yards to go with 7 TDs and no INTs. We could also see more running out of Tannehill, who had 7 rushing scores on the year despite very judicious use. In a do-or-die scenario there’s no reason to hold back.

Due in large to a spate of injuries, the one-two punch of A.J. Brown (4-68-1) and Julio Jones (5-58-1) never delivered the type of production many were anticipating when Tennessee made the move to acquire Jones from Atlanta. Both finished on a high note, though, and the extra week should be doubly beneficial for someone like Jones, who has a lot of miles on his body. Anthony Firkser (4-56-1) scored in each of the team’s final two games, and Nick Westbrook-Ikhine (4-78-1) flashed at times this year, creating a little risk/reward potential for both.

Cincinnati finished 26th in pass defense (248.4 yards per game) during the regular season, and they allowed Derek Carr to throw for 310 yards in the Wild Card round -- though it did require 54 attempts with just 29 completions. While the Raiders have a couple strong pass catchers, led by Darren Waller, they can’t match the talent on the outside for Tennessee with Brown and Jones. If Henry isn’t ready to return, the Titans may have to lean more on their passing game to advance.

CIN FPts Allowed vs. QBs: No.14
CIN FPts Allowed vs. RBs: No.11
CIN FPts Allowed vs. WRs: No.21
CIN FPts Allowed vs. TEs: No.6

Running Game Thoughts: Prior to his injury, Henry was averaging 136 total yards and 1.25 TDs per game. If he can return, the bulldozing back would offer a huge lift to the Titans, and his fresh legs could give Cincy some real problems. If not, D’Onta Foreman (21-69-0) should continue to function as the lead back with Dontrell Hilliard sprinkled in. The Bengals were a stout group during the regular season, yielding 102.5 yards per game on the ground; they gave up 103 on just 14 rushing attempts to Las Vegas last weekend, though, which amounts to a whopping 7.4 yards per carry.

Value Meter:
QB1: Ryan Tannehill
RB1: Derrick Henry (IR)
RB2: D’Onta Foreman
WR1: A.J. Brown
WR2: Julio Jones
Bench: Dontrell Hilliard, Anthony Firkser

Prediction: Titans 27, Bengals 20 ^ Top

49ers at Packers - (Caron)
Line: GB -6.0
Total: 46.5

Passing Game Thoughts: 49ers quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo had both a thumb and shoulder injury this week, but is expected to start this weekend’s divisional-round matchup against the Packers. Garoppolo’s thumb injury was certainly bothering him this past week against the Cowboys and it might’ve been the reason why he missed a few big passes during the game. He ended up throwing for just 172 yards and no touchdowns with a nearly-costly interception in what was certainly far from his best performance. Garoppolo might be the 49ers’ starter, but he’s one you should avoid for fantasy in the playoffs.

Wide receiver Brandon Aiyuk led the team in receiving against Dallas, catching six passes for 66 yards against Dallas and has now caught at least four passes in four straight games going back to Week 16. He’s become a reliable WR2 option for fantasy, although he hasn’t had the big spike weeks to make him a viable WR1. He’ll also likely see quite a bit of coverage this week from star cornerback Jaire Alexander who is returning from injury for the Packers. While Alexander may not be back to full health, he’s absolutely one of the better defensive backs in the league and this is a potentially difficult situation for Aiyuk. He’s more of a low-end WR2/high-end WR3/Flex this week.

Do-it-all weapon Deebo Samuel continues to produce for fantasy despite not a ton of receiving production, as he carried the ball 10 times for 72 yards and a touchdown against the Cowboys. Samuel has scored double-digit PPR points in every game this season and hasn’t been below 17 PPR points since Week 14. He’s one of the most reliable players in fantasy because the 49ers are scheming touches for him and he’s producing with those opportunities. It doesn’t get much better than that.

While wide receiver Jauan Jennings was the star of the 49ers’ Week 18 victory over the Rams and it looked like he might be carving out a bigger role in the San Francisco offense going forward, he was back to being irrelevant against the Cowboys. He caught just three passes for 29 yards and no touchdowns and he is not a serious option for fantasy.

Tight end George Kittle is the player that fantasy owners have to start getting worried about. Including his one-catch performance against the Cowboys in the wild card round, Kittle has now failed to reach even 30 yards or score a touchdown in four straight games. However, while he’s been struggling, there really aren’t many better tight ends in the league and it’d be extremely difficult to justify benching him for fantasy. We just have to hope for better usage and better days.

GB FPts Allowed vs. QBs: No.7
GB FPts Allowed vs. RBs: No.22
GB FPts Allowed vs. WRs: No.22
GB FPts Allowed vs. TEs: No.11

Running Game Thoughts: Running back Elijah Mitchell continues to see massive workloads in the 49ers backfield when he’s healthy and this past week’s game against Dallas was no exception. Mitchell carried the ball 27 times, tying a season-high, rushing for 96 yards and a touchdown. While he’s essentially useless in the passing game most weeks, it’s hard to deny his usage in one of the league’s most-productive rushing attacks. Mitchell needs to be ranked as a strong RB1, even against a Packers defense that gave up the eighth-fewest fantasy points to opposing running backs during the regular season.

Value Meter:
RB1: Elijah Mitchell
WR1: Deebo Samuel
WR3: Brandon Aiyuk
TE1: George Kittle
Bench: Jimmy Garoppolo, Jauan Jennings

Passing Game Thoughts: With a full week off to rest and prepare as the NFC’s top seed, the Packers and likely NFL MVP quarterback Aaron Rodgers host the 49ers in the divisional round of the playoffs. Rodgers has been on fire all season long, throwing for multiple touchdown passes all but two games while remaining perhaps the best quarterback ever in limiting turnovers as he threw just four picks all season. He lacks the rushing upside these days to truly turn in massive fantasy performances unless he gets to the four/five/six touchdown performances, but Rodgers remains one of the league’s most consistent QB1 options for fantasy. He threw for 261 yards and two touchdowns against the 49ers back in Week 3 and there’s little reason to think he won’t be a great option at home against the 49ers this week.

Super stud wide receiver Davante Adams is one of the top options on the board this week as he faces a 49ers defense that he absolutely torched back in Week 3. Adams caught 12 passes for 132 yards and a touchdown in what was one of his most-productive games of the season. He scored a touchdown and/or went over 100 yards in six of his final seven games this season.

With Marquez Valdes-Scantling unlikely to suit up against the 49ers this week, one of the more under-the-radar options for fantasy could be Allen Lazard. Lazard quietly put together a very successful run down the stretch in the regular season that included five touchdowns in his final five games. It’s hard to believe that he’ll ever see a huge volume in the Packers offense as long as Adams is healthy, but Lazard is a good bet to get into the end zone against the 49ers.

Wide receiver Randall Cobb is back for the playoffs after being out with a groin injury since Week 12, but he is not someone who should be trusted for fantasy. Even before his injury, Cobb failed to reach even 10 PPR fantasy points in eight of the 11 games he played.

SF FPts Allowed vs. QBs: No.22
SF FPts Allowed vs. RBs: No.23
SF FPts Allowed vs. WRs: No.14
SF FPts Allowed vs. TEs: No.26

Running Game Thoughts: The split backfield in Green Bay continues to be one of the more frustrating situations for fantasy football whether you’re a manager who owns Aaron Jones or AJ Dillon. If you’re looking for some sort of a trend, though, it should be that Jones continues to be the more productive back on a per-touch basis, particularly because he sees more usage in the passing game. Jones scored 13 or more PPR fantasy points in four straight starts to close out his regular season before missing Week 18’s contest against the Lions with a knee injury. Meanwhile, Dillon was held to single-digit PPR fantasy points in three of his final four games, including a disappointing performance against the Lions in Week 18 in which he ran the ball 14 times for just 63 yards and no touchdowns.

Still, the reality is that, as long as the other one is healthy, both Jones and Dillon’s respective fantasy upsides are limited. It’s been a long time since they played, but Green Bay’s backfield split against the 49ers back in Week 3 saw Jones touch the ball 21 times to Dillon’s eight. Things have evened out a bit since then, but still, it appears that Jones is the stronger option heading into this contest.

Value Meter:
QB1: Aaron Rodgers
RB2: Aaron Jones
WR1: Davante Adams
Flex: AJ Dillon, Allen Lazard, Equanimeous St. Brown
Bench: Randall Cobb

Prediction: Packers 30, 49ers 24 ^ Top

Rams @ Buccaneers - (Swanson)
Line: TB -3.0
Total: 48.0

Passing Game Thoughts: Fresh off a huge win over the Cardinals in Phoenix, Matthew Stafford and the Rams now get to take on Tom Brady and Buccaneers, with the winner advancing to the NFC Championship Game.

Stafford scored the third-most points of any quarterback in the Wild Card Weekend, with two passing touchdowns and a rushing score. He paled in comparison to the monster games by Patrick Mahomes and Josh Allen, who both threw for over 300 yards and five scores.

To beat the Buccaneers and their stout run defense this week, Stafford will once again need to deliver with his arm and in the passing game.

A big reason why Stafford should have success in this game is the emergence of Odell Beckham Jr., who has done admirably in filling in for the injured Robert Woods. OBJ has six touchdowns since joining the team, including 4/54/1 last week vs. Arizona.

Of course, Cooper Kupp is the focal point of the offense after becoming only the fourth player in the last 30 years to win the triple crown of receiving, with the most yards, touchdowns, and receptions.

Defensive Coordinator Todd Bowles will look to limit Kupp and force OBJ and the other options on the Rams to beat them. But that is easier said than done, as evident with the 9/96/2 line Kupp dropped on the Bucs when the two teams played back in Week 3.

While we can look at that game for some guidance on how this one could turn out, it is important to remember that the Bucs were without a few starting cornerbacks in that game.

In keeping with the injury theme, the Bucs are a beat-up team heading into Sunday. Starting linebacker Lavonte David was limited on Thursday’s practice with a foot issue that he has played with for the last few weeks, and corner Sean Murphy-Bunting was limited as well with a hamstring. Both are likely to play, but they will not be at full strength and could be targets in the passing game.

Look for the Rams to continue to utilize tight end, Tyler Higbee in this matchup. Tampa Bay finished in the middle of the pack against tight ends, and their aggressive linebacking group can be exploited in play-action passes off the run.

TB FPts Allowed vs. QBs: No.8
TB FPts Allowed vs. RBs: No.29
TB FPts Allowed vs. WRs: No.7
TB FPts Allowed vs. TEs: No.15

Running Game Thoughts: The return of Cam Akers to the field after suffering an Achilles injury is nothing short of amazing. When most players need a full calendar year or more to recover, the second-year back managed to do it in half that time.

Akers ran the ball 17 times for 53 yards against the Cardinals and added another 40 yards on a splash play in the passing game. He clearly is going to be part of the ground game with four more carries compared to backfield mate Sony Michel.
Unfortunately, neither is in line for a solid game in this matchup, as the Bucs finished the season giving up the third-fewest points to running backs.

Teams who have found success against the Bucs have done so in the air, and Sean McVay is going to follow that script in this game.

Value Meter:
QB1: Matthew Stafford (Low-End)
RB2: Cam Akers (Low-End)
RB3: Sony Michel (High-End)
WR1: Cooper Kupp (High-End)
WR2: Odell Beckham Jr. (Low-End)
TE1: Tyler Higbee (Low-End)

Passing Game Thoughts: No Chris Godwin. No Antonio Brown. No Problem. Tom Brady continues to amaze, playing at such a high level despite losing two of his best weapons. Of course, you could argue he has the best tight end of all time and the only player in NFL history to start a career with eight-straight 1000-yard seasons.

Regardless of how you want to look at it, Brady is playing at an MVP level and will be a difficult matchup for the Rams.

From a matchup standpoint, it will be interesting to see how the Rams utilize prized defended Jalen Ramsey. Will they have him work more in the middle to stop Rob Gronkowski, or will they use him to limit Mike Evans outside?

We anticipate it will be more Gronk, as Ramey’s size makes him a more formidable matchup for Gronkowski.

Perhaps most critical is center Ryan Jensen, who has yet to practice this week after suffering an ankle injury against the Eagles. Jenson is key to the offense in both the run and passing game, and he is critical in keeping pressure from coming up the middle.

Starting right tackle Tristan Wirfs is also very iffy with an ankle injury.

Not good news for Brady, who will see a ton of Aaron Donald and Von Miller. The Giants provided the league years ago the blueprint on how to beat Tom Brady, with pressure up the middle and rushing just four. With those injuries to Jenson and Wirfs, we could see a similar outcome in this game.

LAR FPts Allowed vs. QBs: No.28
LAR FPts Allowed vs. RBs: No.21
LAR FPts Allowed vs. WRs: No.9
LAR FPts Allowed vs. TEs: No.20

Running Game Thoughts: With Leonard Fournette not ready to be activated last week, the Bucs turned to veteran Giovani Bernard and Ke’Shawn Vaughn. Both players reached the end zone and finished as top-7 fantasy plays last week.

Fournette returned to practice this week, but his status is still in doubt. Unless he is able to log a full practice on Friday, look for Vaughn and Bernard to carry the load.

As good as the Rams are on defense, teams that do a good job of doubling Donald and running counters like the 49ers have found success. Without their top back, the Bucs may struggle running the ball, but don’t be surprised to see Brady use them a ton in the passing game.

Value Meter:
QB1: Tom Brady (High-End)
RB2: Giovani Bernard (Low-End)
RB3: Ke’Shawn Vaughn (High-End)
WR1: Mike Evans (High-End)
TE1: Rob Gronkowski (High-End)

Prediction: Los Angeles 27, Tampa Bay 24 ^ Top

Bills at Chiefs - (Ken Ilchuk)
Line: KC -2.5
Total: 53.5

Passing Game Thoughts: QB Josh Allen is coming off what many are calling the greatest postseason performance by a quarterback in NFL history. He threw the ball just 25 times, but still eclipsed 300 yards passing and tossed five touchdowns against the vaunted Patriots defense. It should go without saying that he is your top fantasy QB play this week in all formats.

Stefon Diggs is the clear No.1 receiver here and a legitimate WR1 for all owners. But it’s worth noting that his volume has been hurt by the Bills’ increased focus on the run game and Allen’s ability to get through progressions and spread the ball. That’s not to say the numbers are bad, just inconsistent. Targets over the last four games: 4, 14, 9, 13, 7. By that pattern, it could be a big week for Diggs, especially against a Chiefs defense that has allowed the 2nd most fantasy points per game vs. QB’s this season, and over 23 fantasy points per game against WR’s. The Chiefs did hold him to just two catches in their Week 5 meeting, but he continues to be a big play threat for Allen down the field.

Elsewhere, TE Dawson Knox tore up the Chiefs in that Week 5 game for over 100 yards and a score. Don’t expect DC Steve Spagnuolo to let that happen again. But that could open things up for WR Isaiah McKenzie, who has flashed in his last two opportunities and may have just wrestled away the slot position from veteran Cole Beasley. Gabe Davis is a threat in the red zone with four TD’s in the last five games of the regular season, but McKenzie is my sleeper in this group.

KC FPts Allowed vs. QBs: No.2
KC FPts Allowed vs. RBs: No.13
KC FPts Allowed vs. WRs: No.15
KC FPts Allowed vs. TEs: No.17

Running Game Thoughts: The Bills have been decidedly run heavy in recent weeks and RB Devin Singletary has been the engine behind that push. He has gotten at least 16 carries in four of the last five games, and every time has responded with at least 80 yards on the ground. He’s also become more of a receiving threat, and is finally getting some looks near the goal line with seven rushing touchdowns and one touchdown catch in the last five games. He’s a solid RB1 in DFS play this week.

The Chiefs have been solid against the run, particularly in the second half of the year, but they have had their problems against mobile QB’s, giving up nearly 400 rushing yards to QB’s during the season. Allen, the Bills second-leading rusher, has at least 5 carries in each of the last four games (including two games in double digits) and is averaging over 8.0 yards per carry in that stretch. Look for more scripted runs for Allen this week, and don’t be surprised to see him take off, especially if the Chiefs try to man-up downfield in the secondary.

Value Meter:
QB1: Josh Allen (high-end)
RB1: Devin Singletary (mid-range)
WR1: Stefon Diggs (mid-range), Gabriel Davis (low-end)
WR2: Isaiah McKenzie (mid-range), Emmanuel Sanders (low-end)
TE1: Dawson Knox (high-end)
FLEX: RB Zack Moss, WR Cole Beasley

Passing Game Thoughts: Like Allen, QB Patrick Mahomes is coming off a prolific outing against the Steelers in the Wild Card Round. He became the first QB in NFL history to pass for 400+ yards and five touchdowns in a playoff win. As a result, Mahomes is your second choice at fantasy QB this week behind Allen, despite the fact that the Bills are the best defense in the league against fantasy QB’s, allowing just over 15 points per game. They held Mahomes to 5.0 yards per attempt in Week 5, and picked him off twice, but they also allowed 61 rushing yards in that game. Look for Mahomes to be mobile and get out of the pocket this week against a defense that can bring pressure (42 sacks in the regular season) and get their hands on the ball (19 picks), and count on QB Andy Reid to find creative ways to get Mahomes going early in this game. He doesn’t want to get in a hole against this Bills team.

WR Tyreek Hill and TE Travis Kelce are no-brainers for this week’s DFS players, while Mecole Hardman and Demarcus Robinson take a back seat with Hill’s return to full health. I like Byron Pringle as a sleeper. His role has grown in recent weeks, drawing at least seven targets in three of the last four games and responding with four touchdowns and averaging over 10 yards per catch on 19 grabs.

BUF FPts Allowed vs. QBs: No.32
BUF FPts Allowed vs. RBs: No.25
BUF FPts Allowed vs. WRs: No.32
BUF FPts Allowed vs. TEs: No.30

Running Game Thoughts: With Clyde Edwards-Helaire (shoulder) and Darrel Williams (toe) banged up and mildly unproductive, RB Jerick McKinnon has taken over in the backfield. He is averaging 5.0 yards per carry in the run game and has caught all nine of his targets, two for touchdowns. He totaled 142 yards last week against the Steelers, and it’s hard to envision a scenario where he would yield (at least early on) to a healthy Edwards-Helaire. McKinnon is a playmaker, and the juice he brings to the passing game will sit favorably with Reid’s play-calling sensibilities.

Value Meter:
QB1: Patrick Mahomes (high-end)
RB1: Jerick McKinnon (mid-range)
RB2: Clyde Edwards-Helaire (low-end)
WR1: Tyreek Hill (mid-range)
WR2: Byron Pringle (high-end)
TE: Travis Kelce (high-end)
FLEX: RB Darrel Williams, WR Demarcus Robinson, WR Mecole Hardman

Prediction: Bills 30, Chiefs 28 ^ Top