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Playoff Fantasy Football: Divisional Round

By Doug Orth | 1/14/21 |

As discussed in this space last week, the remainder of my postseason columns will feature my Playoff Challenge roster (for as long as applicable), followed by my weekly league predictions and DFS prognostications. The further we advance in the postseason, the deeper the analysis into the matchups. Playoff Challenge Roster
QB: Aaron Rodgers (x2)
RB: Aaron Jones (x2)
RB: Alvin Kamara (x2)
WR: Davante Adams (x2)
WR: Stefon Diggs (x2)
TE: Travis Kelce (x2)
K: Tyler Bass (x2)
D/ST: Bills (x2)


Below you will find my position-by-position projections. Please note I have included DraftKings' dollar value for each player, followed by their projected point total. I won't spend a great deal of time explaining each projection here - only some of the more notable ones. Each position is sorted by my DraftKings' projected point total.

Key for quarterbacks, running backs, receivers and tight ends:
P Yds - Passing Yards
P TD - Passing Touchdowns
INT - Interceptions
Ru Yds - Rushing Yards
Ru TD - Rushing Touchdowns
Rec Yds - Receiving Yards
Rec TD - Receiving Touchdowns
Rec - Receptions

Player Tm DK$ P Yds P TDs INT Rec Re Yds Re TDs Ru Yds Ru TDs DK
Patrick Mahomes KC $8,000 429 5 0 24 0 42.6
Josh Allen BUF $7,400 379 3 1 42 1 39.4
Lamar Jackson BAL $7,600 211 2 1 102 1 34.6
Aaron Rodgers GB $6,900 308 2 1 24 0 24.6
Drew Brees NO $5,600 265 3 0 22.6
Baker Mayfield CLE $5,300 280 2 1 14 0 19.6
Tom Brady TB $6,300 286 2 1 18.4
Jared Goff LAR $5,200 220 1 1 11.8
Taysom Hill NO $5,000 2 21 1 16 0 11.7

With Derrick Henry no longer available in the player pool, Alvin Kamara checks in as the only running back in the $7000+ range, and he has arguably the worst matchup any running back can ask for in the Bucs. Therefore, this is a week where DFS players can feel reasonably good about paying up at quarterback. It also helps to have great options, as we do with the top four quarterbacks listed above. Rodgers' matchup with the Rams should not automatically remove him from consideration with the other three - he does come at a slight discount - but it's a risk to take for those DFS players submitting a limited number of lineups. On the opposite end of the spectrum is Mahomes, who has all of his weapons healthy and faces a Cleveland defense that may not have CB Denzel Ward or Kevin Johnson for a full complement of snaps after both came off the COVID list on Wednesday. That's a recipe for the biggest statistical line I may have ever projected for a quarterback. Kansas City HC Andy Reid could also reach the conclusion that has me thinking twice about riding Mahomes too hard in DFS: ride the running game a little bit more than usual to keep the Browns from doing the same to his defense.

Whereas there is a chance Mahomes disappoints a bit this weekend, Allen and Jackson are unlikely to do so unless they simply don't play well. Both quarterbacks will see significant usage in the running game and could be their team's leading rushers for a second straight week. Baltimore's secondary would typically be a concern for most quarterbacks, but Allen has topped 30 fantasy points on DraftKings eight times this season, doing so against some of the stingier defenses against quarterbacks (Rams and Patriots, among others). Buffalo is also one of the few teams in the league that may have more good/great options at receiver than Baltimore does at cornerback. Jackson's low volume as a passer always makes him a bit of a risk in fantasy, but his elite athleticism almost always makes up for it. One thing to consider: Jackson told reporters earlier this week he has never played in a snow game and didn't want to start now. While that is hardly a big deal for most quarterbacks, change of direction is a big part of his game. If that is compromised in any way, he becomes a much less attractive option to fantasy owners and would fall well behind Mahomes and Allen in my estimation.

A relatively strong case could be made that seven of the eight quarterbacks playing this weekend are worth using in some fashion, with only Goff and/or John Wolford not making the cut. Of the lower-priced quarterbacks, Mayfield would seem to have the highest ceiling for two reasons: 1) he has the ability to pick up a few fantasy points with his legs and should have some running opportunities that come via play-action bootleg throws and 2) Browns-Chiefs will be a high-scoring game and Cleveland will be able to run the ball, giving Mayfield the possibility of scoring a short rushing TD and/or throwing for 2-3 short touchdowns. Brees averaged just over 190 yards passing in the Saints' two easy wins over the Bucs during the regular season, but it would seem Tampa Bay will be a slightly different (and more challenging) animal than it was in the first two meetings. If Tampa Bay continues to emphasize the short passing game and play-action that has traditionally suited Brady's game for years and fueled the team's recent offensive surge, Brees will need to keep up. Furthermore, the Bucs' run defense is still very good despite losing some key parts and mostly contained the Saints' running game in the aforementioned two regular-season setbacks.

 Running Backs
Player Tm DK $ Rec Rec Yds Rec TDs Ru Yds Ru TDs DK
Nick Chubb CLE $6,600 3 28 0 116 2 32.4
Cam Akers LAR $5,700 4 42 0 104 1 27.6
Alvin Kamara NO $7,900 5 48 1 46 0 20.4
Clyde Edwards-Helaire KC $5,500 4 34 0 57 1 19.1
Kareem Hunt CLE $4,800 3 34 1 44 0 16.8
J.K. Dobbins BAL $6,000 1 8 0 83 1 16.1
Aaron Jones GB $6,800 4 39 0 66 0 14.5
Devin Singletary BUF $4,500 3 31 0 38 0 9.9
Patrick Ricard BAL $4,000 2 16 1 0 0 9.6
Leonard Fournette TB $4,900 3 26 0 26 0 8.2
Ronald Jones TB $5,200 1 12 0 52 0 7.4
Jamaal Williams GB $4,400 2 23 0 23 0 6.6
Gus Edwards BAL $4,200 0 0 0 52 0 5.2
Latavius Murray NO $4,300 1 8 0 28 0 4.6
T.J. Yeldon BUF $4,000 1 8 0 22 0 4.0
Darrel Williams KC $4,000 2 8 0 7 0 3.5
Le'Veon Bell KC $5,100 1 7 0 17 0 3.4
Malcolm Brown LAR $4,100 0 0 0 14 0 1.4
AJ Dillon GB $4,000 0 0 0 8 0 0.8

During the regular season, identifying the plus-matchups is a sound and usually smart way to identify potential value in DFS. During the postseason, I'd argue projecting volume is more important. Many will point to the Chiefs' weak run defense as the reason to roll with Chubb, but only two backs have topped 20 fantasy points against Kansas City since Week 2. So while the former may be true (and it's partly by design since the Chiefs are confident their offense can go toe-to-toe with anyone), there isn't much proof to suggest opponents have been able to take advantage. I would argue it will be more important to get him 20-plus touches. Cleveland has done a fine job of getting him in that general area since his return from a knee injury in Week 10, and the reality of the situation is that he's going to break at least one or two big runs every game with that kind of volume because he has perhaps the best mix of talent and instinct of any running back in the league.

Green Bay has shown in recent weeks it can be stout against the run when DC Mike Pettine makes it enough of a priority (as he did in Week 16 against the Titans when he utilized the same kind of five-man line concept - to plug up inside running lanes - that the Patriots and others famously used at the end of 2018 and most of 2019 to befuddle the Rams. Green Bay gave up a big fantasy game to David Montgomery in the season finale, but the majority of NFL running backs will be able to total 132 yards and a touchdown when they get 31 touches. With the Rams not having much clarity at quarterback in recent weeks and a defense that is among the league's best, it would be far from shocking if Akers gets another 30 touches like he did last week against what was supposed to be a stout Seattle run defense. The big difference is that HC Sean McVay's scheme and play-calling savvy gives him a higher ceiling than Montgomery in Chicago. Circling back to my initial point in the preceding paragraph, Chubb and Akers project to have the most volume this week, and the likelihood is that winning DFS lineups will almost certainly have one or both players in them.

There's no question Dobbins has massive potential and upside, so much so that he is going to hit in fantasy more often than not even when he only sees fewer than 15 touches. The problem is the rookie has only handled 15 touches three times in 16 career games (including last week) and never any more than 17. The other big issue for fantasy owners is that despite his all-purpose skill set, he has a total of three targets in his last six games. In short, as much as Baltimore's offensive philosophy enhances his ability as a runner, it also greatly limits his overall fantasy upside because he sees almost no usage as a receiver. The Bills have shown cracks on occasion against the run and will be tested as much as they have all year in that regard against Baltimore, but the combination of Lamar Jackson rarely checking down and the lack of time the Ravens spend in negative game script figure to lead to another high-carry, low-target day for Dobbins.

As I noted in the cornerback section, CEH has some sneaky upside if the Chiefs decide Chubb is enough of a threat to play keep-away from the Browns by feeding the rookie. We saw this strategy early in the season when Kansas City pounded the Bills into submission and kept Josh Allen on the sideline - likely doing so because it viewed Buffalo's offense is the only one that can rival its own. Aaron Jones is a lot like Kamara - especially this week - in the sense that both are so efficient with their touches that they can be started almost regardless of the matchup but will be asked to keep that up against two of the most unforgiving run defenses. When medium volume meets great run defense, it's hard for even the most efficient backs to keep up with the backs primed for 25-30 touches.

One final thought: I'm not sure if Green Bay saw enough in Week 16 or not, but can you think of a better time for the Packers to unleash Dillon than in a potential cold-weather game? While I didn't project him for much here, I may revisit this projection before the games start on Saturday.

 Wide Receivers
Player Tm DK$ Rec Rec Yds Rec TDs Ru Yds Ru TDs DK
Stefon Diggs BUF $7,300 7 117 1 27.7
Tyreek Hill KC $8,000 6 114 1 26.4
Davante Adams GB $8,600 6 90 1 21.0
Jarvis Landry CLE $5,600 6 77 1 19.7
Marquise Brown BAL $5,200 5 77 1 18.7
Sammy Watkins KC $4,800 5 76 1 18.6
Cooper Kupp LAR $5,300 6 64 1 18.4
Antonio Brown TB $5,400 5 62 1 17.2
Michael Thomas NO $6,700 8 82 0 16.2
Gabriel Davis BUF $4,000 4 56 1 15.6
Cole Beasley BUF $4,900 7 72 0 14.2
Demarcus Robinson KC $4,300 3 38 1 12.8
Chris Godwin TB $6,100 5 70 0 12.0
Robert Woods LAR $5,900 5 51 0 7 0 10.8
Mike Evans TB $6,400 4 46 0 8.6
Emmanuel Sanders NO $4,500 4 42 0 8.2
John Brown BUF $4,600 3 46 0 7.6
Rashard Higgins CLE $4,100 3 46 0 7.6
Allen Lazard GB $3,900 3 37 0 6.7
Willie Snead BAL $3,300 3 28 0 5.8
Deonte Harris NO $3,500 2 27 0 4.7
Marquez Valdes-Scantling GB $3,800 1 36 0 4.6
Mecole Hardman KC $3,900 1 22 0 3.2
Donovan Peoples-Jones CLE $3,000 1 18 0 2.8
Isaiah McKenzie BUF $3,300 1 12 0 4 0 2.6
Equanimeous St. Brown GB $3,000 1 13 0 2.3
Scotty Miller TB $3,400 1 13 0 2.3
Josh Reynolds LAR $3,200 1 12 0 2.2
Dez Bryant BAL $3,000 1 11 0 2.1
Lil'Jordan Humphrey NO $3,000 1 10 0 2.0
Van Jefferson LAR $3,000 1 8 0 1.8

Baltimore has established a deserved reputation as a defensive juggernaut for years. The defense is still very good, but it is not a must-avoid either. Primary slot CB Marlon Humphrey was targeted 103 times during the regular season (second-most in the league) and Marcus Peters gave up five touchdowns. What it means is there isn't much evidence to suggest Diggs' 14-game streak with at least six catches should end this weekend. Hill's projection took a bit of a hit following Wednesday's news that CB Denzel Ward was activated from the COVID-19 list, but that isn't enough of a reason to bet against arguably the most dynamic receiver in the league when he is catching passes from the best quarterback in the league in an offense that has proven it can do whatever it wants at times. If DFS players want to invest heavily in one $8000 receiver this week, it should be him. It should come as no surprise if he scores two or three times.

Perhaps for the first time all season (or at least since his return from his ankle injury in Week 6), Adams should not be considered the odds-on favorite to be the top-scoring fantasy receiver of the week. With that said, he's not an easy fade either. Packers HC Matt LaFleur coached under Sean McVay with the Rams and 49ers HC Kyle Shanahan before that. (Brother Mike LaFleur is the 49ers passing game coordinator.) The latter is particularly notable since San Francisco beat Los Angeles in both meetings this season and did so in large part by feeding Deebo Samuel a lot of touches at or behind the line of scrimmage. Is Adams the same kind of receiver as Samuel? Not exactly. But Adams is superb after the catch and so good with his footwork that it would be unrealistic to expect Jalen Ramsey to shut him down when the two are matched up against each other on the perimeter. Ramsey will venture into the slot more than most elite cornerbacks do (114 of his 581 coverage snaps, per Pro Football Focus), but Adams worked inside on 31.7 of his routes (147 of 464). My point: LaFleur will find ways to get Adams the ball even if the conventional way doesn't work. Don't make the mistake of fading Adams in all of your DFS lineups just because he will get the "Ramsey treatment."

While I won't go so far as to say Landry and Marquise Brown will be staples in my lineup this week, one or both will probably find their way into the majority of my lineups at their price point. If Browns-Chiefs turns into the shootouts many think it will, Landry should be a near-lock for eight-plus targets. The Ravens' low passing game volume (and Lamar Jackson's desire to throw over the middle of the field) makes Brown a risky bet each week, but their devotion to the run game also means the second-year wideout typically only has his man to beat when Baltimore does attempt a pass.

It's probably not a coincidence that Tampa Bay's offense started taking off about the same time the schedule got easy, but there's more to it than that. In addition to utilizing more play-action and throwing shorter passes (catering more to Tom Brady's strengths), it seems as though the quarterback's connection with Antonio Brown has only become stronger. Mike Evans' recent history with Marshon Lattimore is not good to say the least, while Rob Gronkowski has managed an underwhelming three catches on nine targets for 13 yards in the first two meetings against New Orleans. That means fantasy owners should expect the majority of targets to go in Godwin or Brown's direction. Kupp is a solid investment in the same price range as Landry and Brown. It seemed as though he was the only receiver Jared Goff targeted early on last week, and he could be in line for a lot of work again if Jaire Alexander lines up opposite Woods more than half of the time. With that said, Kupp has yet to practice this week due to a knee injury. If he can't go, Van Jefferson (and maybe even Josh Reynolds) would be a worthwhile DFS punt.

I despise narratives, but I'm probably going to get Watkins into a few lineups this week if only to test the "he only shows up in Week 1 and the playoffs" logic. It also helps that Robert Jackson - the corner he was likely to see the most of this weekend - just landed on IR. With that said, Watkins' status is uncertain after hurting his calf in Week 16, sitting out Week 17 and not practicing Wednesday. If he can't go, I would likely fire up Robinson in a few more lineups than usual. A more likely low-cost option for me will be Gabriel Davis, who is the only receiver in the $4000 range who I believe has realistic 15-20 point upside. He comes with obvious downside as well, especially considering John Brown played 25 more snaps last week (57-32). Both players saw the same number of targets (four), but the rookie caught all four of his while the veteran got blanked. I would not expect a repeat of such an occurrence this week.

 Tight Ends
Player Tm DK$ Rec Rec Yds Rec TDs DK
Travis Kelce KC $7,800 7 112 2 33.2
Robert Tonyan GB $4,200 5 47 1 15.7
Mark Andrews BAL $5,000 6 71 0 13.1
Cameron Brate TB $2,900 3 36 1 12.6
Jared Cook NO $4,000 2 33 1 11.3
Austin Hooper CLE $3,800 5 58 0 10.8
Dawson Knox BUF $3,100 2 23 1 10.3
Tyler Higbee LAR $3,000 2 37 0 5.7
Jace Sternberger GB $2,500 2 23 0 4.3
Rob Gronkowski TB $3,600 2 21 0 4.1
David Njoku CLE $2,600 2 19 0 3.9
Adam Trautman NO $2,500 1 8 0 1.8
Gerald Everett LAR $2,700 1 6 0 1.6

We don't need to spend a lot of time on Kelce, who just turned in a historic regular season for a tight end. However, if you're wondering if he is worth his price tag this week, bear in mind Cleveland was one of five teams to allow 90 catches and one of six teams to give up at least 10 TDs to the position. This is where it is important to discuss the impact of Tyreek Hill, who forces defenses to account for his speed and causes them to give up easy throws to Kelce underneath. Even at his price tag, I will be hard-pressed not to stack him with Mahomes because he does have 25-30 point upside in this matchup.

The Rams are no picnic for tight ends, but it makes sense that if the No. 1 threat in the passing game (Davante Adams) can be expected to have a rougher day than usual, then the No. 2 option (Tonyan) could be asked to do more. Los Angeles started to show some cracks in its coverage against tight ends down the stretch as Dan Arnold (two TDs in Week 13), Chris Herndon (48 yards in Week 15 to spark his strong finish) and Jacob Hollister (a TD in Week 16) each did some damage. Tonyan is a bigger part of the offense than any of those players and arguably the best one of the bunch. Given the trust Aaron Rodgers has shown in Tonyan in the red zone this year, I like his odds of scoring at least once.

I wish I had better reasons to project Brate as the third-best tight end of the week other than he was heavily utilized last week and the lack of involvement (or more work as a blocker) for Gronkowski, but I don't. If I don't roll with Kelce or Tonyan in a lineup, my most likely pivot will be Hooper for many of the same reasons I gave earlier about Jarvis Landry. Knox's recent involvement in the offense makes him the most likely punt at the position after Brate.

Key for defense/special teams units:
PA - Points allowed
TD - Defensive/return touchdowns
TO - Total turnovers
PA Bonus - Points allowed bonus for DraftKings

 Defense / Special Teams
Team DK $ PA Sacks TD TO DK Bonus DK
New Orleans $3,300 $20 2 0 2 1 7
LA Rams $2,600 $23 4 0 1 0 6
Green Bay $3,900 $20 2 0 1 1 5
Baltimore $2,800 $34 2 0 1 -1 3
Kansas City $3,600 $31 2 0 1 -1 3
Buffalo $2,900 $31 1 0 1 -1 2
Tampa Bay $3,100 $27 1 0 0 0 1
Cleveland $2,300 $42 1 0 0 -4 -3

In the majority of my lineups, I don't plan on looking too far outside of the Packers-Rams for my DST option. Why? Green Bay will be the team's first game without LT David Bakhtiari, which could easily lead to a few sacks for the Rams. While Rodgers is a poor bet to throw an interception, a forced fumble on one of those sacks could be enough to make an investment in the Rams pay off at one of the lower prices on the board. Conversely, the Packers face a team in Los Angeles that is built to play in cold weather but may not be overly prepared to do so. Add to that the fact the Rams turned the ball over 25 times this season and there is a case to be made for Green Bay being the top DST play of the weekend if it can force L.A. into negative game script. However, I have a hard time justifying a $3900 price point for a defense I don't expect to get a ton of sacks or score a return touchdown. As a result, Cleveland is the only DST I'm reasonably certain I won't use.

Doug Orth has written for FF Today since 2006 and been featured in USA TODAY's Fantasy Football Preview magazine since 2010. He is also a high-stakes player who often appears as a guest analyst on a number of national sports radio shows, such as Sirius XM's "Fantasy Drive." Doug is also a member of the Fantasy Sports Writers Association.