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Inside the Matchup

Conference Championships

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



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

Bengals @ Chiefs - (Swanson)
Line: KC -7.0
Total: 54.5

Passing Game Thoughts: Joe Burrow and the collection of young skill position players are widely considered one of the top up and coming offensive units in the league. They are the first offense to have a QB throw for 4,000 yards, two receivers post over 1000 receiving yards, and a running back rush for over 1000 yards - all of whom are 26 years and younger.

The future is not only bright in Cincinnati. The future is now.

Burrow and the Bengals went into Tennessee last week and beat the No.1 seed Titans. It wasn’t the prettiest game in the world, and the Titans managed to sack Burrow 9 times (cue the principle from Ferris Bueller's Day Off), but the Bengals continued their magic season and head next to take on the Chiefs in the AFC Championship Game.

For the Bengals to shock the world and beat the Chiefs, Burrow is going to have to do two things. First, he is going to need to go toe-to-toe with the best quarterback in the league and likely throw for well over 300 yards and multiple touchdowns. Second, he is going to have to play nearly a clean game with zero turnovers.

The Chiefs just went ham against one of the best defenses in the league in the Bills, and Patrick Mahomes and the skill position players on Kanas City will have little trouble scoring on the Bengals.

The question is can Burrow keep pace and can Burrow not give up the ball in critical moments.

Bengals did beat the Chiefs 34-31 back in Week 17, with Burrow throwing for 446 yards and four touchdowns. It took a near-perfect game from the second-year player to eke out the win, and a similar performance will be needed on Sunday.

From a matchup perspective, the Chiefs fit well into the passing offense that the Bengals run, and Burrow should be able to find success throwing the ball.

A key to watch will be the return of safety Tyrann Mathieu, who missed most of last week against the Bills. Josh Allen took advantage of Mathieu’s absence in the middle of the field, hitting Gabriel Davis for a playoff record four touchdowns.

Mathieu was a full participant on Thursday and should be good to go.

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: Joe Mixon had one of his worst games of the season against the Chiefs, with 46 rushing yards and no touchdown on 12 carries. The Chiefs are difficult to run against, and the game scrips dictate that you are not able to run the ball because you are chasing points.

Look for the Bengals to try and run the ball with Mixon; just don’t be surprised if they struggle just like they did back in Week 17.
Both run defenses in this game are solid, and neither present much value for the opposing running backs for DFS purposes. Sure, Mixon could get a fluke rushing touchdown, but it is more likely that he will get around 70 total yards and no scores.

Value Meter:
QB1: Joe Burrow (High-End)
RB1: Joe Mixon (Low-End)
WR1: Ja’Marr Chase (High-End)
WR2: Tee Higgins High-End)
WR3: Tyler Boyd High-End)
TE1: C.J. Uzomah (Low-End)

Passing Game Thoughts: In an instant classic that will live in Chiefs lore for years to come, Mahomes gave a near-perfect performance against the Bills last week, including leading a field goal drive with just 13 seconds on the clock.

While the Bengals do not present the same challenge as the Bills, Mahomes and the Chiefs lost to Burrow and the Bengals in a shootout back in Week 17. In that game, Mahomes threw for just 259 yards and two scores. He will need to do more in the air in this game for the Chiefs to move on to their third-straight Super Bowl.

From a matchup perspective, the Bengals run defense led by DJ Reeder makes them more attractive to beat in the air. Although Darrel Williams did rush for 88 yards and a pair of scores in the first matchup, the Bengals shut down the run game of Derrick Henry and the Titans last week and could make it hard to run on Sunday.

That is not a problem for Mahomes and company, as Tyreek Hill and Travis Kelce will have a field day against the Cincinnati secondary.

Despite having a down year based on his standards, Kelce has at least one score in each of his last five games and a whopping 204 combined yards in the playoffs. One hundred yards and a score are well within reach for Kelce.

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: It may surprise some readers to know that Jerick McKinnon, the third-string running back for the Chiefs who only has played because of injuries to Darrel Williams and Clyde Edwards-Helaire, is second in fantasy points scored by running backs these playoffs.

He leads all running backs with 11 catches for 135 yards and a score, and he also has 85 yards on 22 carries.

With Williams returning to the practice field, it is possible that all three players will be active on Sunday. The matchup is not great, but Williams did reach pay dirt twice against the Bengals back in Week 17.

The three-headed monster approach makes all of these players risky for DFS. If forced to choose one, I would go with Williams if he is active.

Value Meter:
QB1: Patrick Mahomes (High-End)
RB2: Darrel Williams (Low-End)
RB3: Jerick McKinnon (High-End)
WR1: Tyreek Hill (High-End)
TE1: Travis Kelce (High-End)
Flex: Clyde Edwards-Helaire

Prediction: Kansas City 34, Cincinnati 28 ^ Top

49ers at Rams - (Caron)
Line: LAR -3.5
Total: 45.5

Passing Game Thoughts: With only four teams remaining in the playoffs, the San Francisco 49ers certainly look like they’re the odd-team out when it comes to quarterback play. Garoppolo’s horrible performance against the Packers in the divisional round was nearly the death blow to the team’s Super Bowl aspirations as he threw for just 131 yards, no touchdowns and an interception. While the Packers’ defense isn’t one of the worst, it’s certainly not nearly as good or filled with as many superstars as the Rams defense that Garoppolo will be facing in the NFC Championship. Garoppolo faced Los Angeles twice during the regular season, throwing for a total of 498 yards, three touchdowns and two interceptions in those contests. His Week 18 game saw him throw multiple interceptions and it was nearly enough to cost the team their chance at the playoffs as it was a must-win game. At this point, Garoppolo is fairly obviously the worst QB on the board and it’s just not worth playing him in fantasy this week unless you’re hoping to make the ultimate contrarian play in a DFS tournament.

With Garoppolo struggling as of late, so too have his receiving options. Tight end George Kittle has now failed to find the end zone in six straight games and he’s only twice reached even 30 receiving yards over that stretch. His four catches for 63 yards led the 49ers this past week in what was an ugly offensive performance overall, but it’s obvious to say that Kittle has to be considered a step down from Travis Kelce right now in the overall tight end rankings, although he’s firmly the second-best option at the position given the competition.

Wide receiver / running back hybrid Deebo Samuel finally turned in a not-so-great performance against the Packers this week, but even in that game he ended up touching the ball 13 times for 83 total yards. His contributions as a runner and a pass catcher make him nearly impossible to bench, but pure receivers like Davante Adams, Cooper Kupp and Tyreek Hill are still on the board this week, so Deebo has tough competition. Consider that he scored three times against the Rams in their two previous contests this year, though, and Samuel looks like a strong option.

Wide receiver Brandon Aiyuk was held catchless against the Packers this past week in what was one of the worst 49ers passing game performances in recent memory. Aiyuk was targeted just once and it’s obvious that he’s not going to see a high total target volume in San Francisco’s run-heavy offensive system. There are a lot of great pass catching options available for fantasy this week so be careful about using Aiyuk, but remember that his 107-yard game against the Rams in Week 18 was his highest yardage total of the season. Unfortunately, he’ll likely be lined up against Jalen Ramsey quite a bit, so there’s some heavy risk involved here.

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: Another 20-touch day for Elijah Mitchell would normally mean some nice fantasy numbers, but that didn’t happen against the Packers as the 49ers running back was held to just 71 total yards and no scores on the day. Still, it’s encouraging that, despite Samuel also seeing 10 carries, Mitchell continues to see a very heavy workload in the running game and that type of volume has regularly turned into some nice fantasy production this season. Mitchell carried the ball 27 and 21 times in his two games against the Rams so expect him to be heavily involved again this week and he could very well be the top running back on the board.

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

Passing Game Thoughts: While Jimmy Garoppolo was seemingly carried to victory by his teammates in the Divisional Round, the Rams’ lack of success in the running game forced quarterback Matthew Stafford to put the team on his back. Stafford responded by throwing for 366 yards and a pair of touchdowns while out-dueling Tom Brady on his way to victory. Stafford struggled with turnovers down the stretch in the regular season, but he’s now avoided throwing an interception in each of the Rams’ playoff games while still putting up some solid yardage totals. It’d be tough to rank Stafford above Patrick Mahomes this week, but he and Joe Burrow each have a strong case to be made as the second-best QB in the conference championship round.

Cooper Kupp’s dominance from the regular season has spilled over into the playoffs and the wide receiver completely lit up the Buccaneers in this past week, catching nine passes for 183 yards and a touchdown, including a monster catch down the field near the end of the contest that helped seal the deal for the Rams. Kupp has been incredible this season and it would’ve been hard to ever predict that he’d be ranked above the likes of Davante Adams and Tyreek Hill this week, but that’s exactly where he is. He was the best fantasy receiver in the regular season, he torched the 49ers for over 100 yards both times he played them, and he has to be the top receiver this week.

Teammate Odell Beckham Jr. has been a touchdown scoring machine down the stretch, but this past week’s six catch, 69-yard performance was actually inspiring in a way despite the lack of touchdown. Beckham had been struggling to do really anything other than score short yardage touchdowns since joining the Rams, so seeing him get targeted eight times and convert six of them for over 10 yards per reception is a welcome change. Beckham can’t compete with the likes of some of the other top receivers remaining, but he’s still an interesting WR3/Flex option against the 49ers.

Van Jefferson’s mediocre end to the regular season has dragged on into the playoffs and the receiver has now been held to fewer than 50 receiving yards in five of his past six games while failing to score a touchdown in any of them. With Beckham now much more involved in the offense, Jefferson has become an even more situational contributor and unless he scores on a long pass down the field, it’s tough to imagine that he’s going to deliver for fantasy this week.

Tight end Tyler Higbee has been extremely up and down - but mostly down - this season, but if you’re looking for a sneaky option to start outside of Kelce or Kittle, he’s your man. Higbee actually scored three touchdowns against the 49ers in the two games he played against them, so it wouldn’t be all that surprising to see him do damage in this one.

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: We thought that the Rams might end up splitting touches in their backfield for the remainder of the season, but their divisional round play calling slammed the door on that opinion without much debate. Second-year back Cam Akers carried the ball a whopping 24 times in his second game back from a serious Achilles’ injury and while he was less than spectacular with those touches, what’s most important is that teammate Sony Michel saw just one carry on the day.

With Akers now having completely re-taken over the backfield, he joins Joe Mixon as one of only two backs who truly has a firm grasp on the carries in his team’s offense. Sure, we still need to see more from Akers before we can confidently rank him as an RB1 again, but volume is king in this game and Akers should be in line to see plenty of it.

Value Meter:
QB2: Matthew Stafford
RB2: Cam Akers
WR1: Cooper Kupp
WR3: Odell Beckham Jr.
TE2: Tyler Higbee

Prediction: Rams 27, 49ers 24 ^ Top