The first part of this week's column will be devoted to those
owners who participate in the Playoff Challenge or any other format
in which it is best or required to keep the players you draft
for the duration of the postseason. The second half of the column
is for owners who play in leagues in which you reset your lineup
each week, such as a salary cap setup like DFS. Regardless of
which format(s) you choose to play in, my goal over the next four
articles will be to help each of you through your decision-making
process as you attempt to boost your bottom line.
NFL.com Playoff Challenge/Multi-Week Leagues
For a complete rundown of how players will score fantasy points
for your team, click on the “Rules & Prizing”
link on the NFL.com entry page. Some of the content immediately
below is included on the “How to Play” page, although
the information I provide below should be more than enough to
follow along easily.
The requirements: one QB, two RBs, two WRs, one TE, one K and
one D/ST. You will earn fantasy points based on their on-field performance
during their game, and if your player's team wins, you will have
the option to carry that player over to the next round, where he
will earn a bonus point modifier to his score (which will be referred
to as 2x, 3x and 4x from here on out).
if you pick Patrick Mahomes in the Wildcard round and the Chiefs
win, you can carry him over to the Divisional Round, and earn
two times (2x) the points he earns in his divisional round game.
If Kansas City wins again, you can carry Mahomes into the Conference
Championship round for three times (3x) the points and, if the
Chiefs make the Super Bowl, you can earn four times (4x) the points.
Additionally, a user can select a player/defense in the Wildcard
round even if their team has a bye into the Divisional Round.
In this case, the user would not earn any points for the Wildcard
round, but be eligible to earn 2x points in the Divisional round,
since the player was on the team’s roster for two weekly
scoring periods. Further bonus point modifiers would also apply
as long as that player’s team continues to advance in the
Before we get into the picks, let’s briefly review the
rules and how we may use them to our advantage: 1) passing TDs
are worth four points, so passing yards are valued the same as
DraftKings; 2) all field goals under 50 yards are worth three
points, which means we are more concerned about the volume of
field goals than distance – unless we can find a kicker
who regularly converts from 50-plus (DraftKings does not use kickers);
3) this is a non-PPR format, which obviously favors the big-play
threats (DraftKings is PPR); and 4) team wins are worth five points
in the NFL.com Playoff Challenge, so picking a “winning”
defense is worth almost a touchdown before factoring in the modifiers.
Let's get the No. 1 rule of this game out of the way right now:
if you have a good feeling about which two teams will
meet in the Super Bowl, it is advisable to build your lineup exclusively
with players from those two teams. Most previous playoff
challenge champions' lineups are made up entirely of 4x Super
Bowl participants. (In other words, it is important to project
the Super Bowl entrants first and figure out what players from
those teams to use afterward.) The multipliers are everything
in this contest, so playing the week-to-week matchups are nearly
meaningless. Think about it this way: if I told you that your
regular-season fantasy team's scoring would double in Week 2,
triple in Week 3 and quadruple in Week 4 if you simply left it
the same, would it affect your draft strategy? Of course it would.
The big week your team might post in the first week of this challenge
- in the somewhat unlikely event you played the matchups perfectly
- is going to seem rather insignificant in early February when
every passing touchdown is worth 16 points, every other TD is
worth 24 and the top teams in this competition are scoring 200-300
(or perhaps more) points per week.
As noted earlier, the main challenges are (in order): 1) correctly
predicting the two conference winners and 2) forecasting the best
fantasy players in that hypothetical Super Bowl matchup. This
will be the only Playoff Challenge write-up I do this postseason,
as I have reached the conclusion that any alterations I make to
my lineup in the third and fourth weeks would be in response to
a wrong pick on my part, and my analysis of a 1x or 2x player
isn't going to matter very much. Much like in daily fantasy, the
chalk plays probably aren’t going to win. In other
words, be bold whenever possible! It's a free contest
after all, so crashing and burning - even if it is in front of
an audience like what I'm doing - isn't such a bad thing when
you consider the reward is much greater than the risk involved.
Below you will find 14 playoff teams ranked in order of the (percentage)
odds I believe they have of making the Super Bowl. I'll spend
a bit of time after that attempting to nail the bracket before
talking a little DFS.
1. Green Bay (35%)
2. Kansas City (30%)
3. Tampa Bay (20%)
4. Tennessee (20%)
5. Buffalo (20%)
6. San Francisco (17%)
7. Cincinnati (16%)
8. LA Rams (12%)
9. New England (12%)
10. Dallas (10%)
11. Arizona (5%)
12. Philadelphia (1%)
13. Las Vegas (1%)
14. Pittsburgh (1%)
With that out of the way, let's next focus on my week-to-week
playoff projections and then the players I feel are realistic
alternatives for this four-week sprint to the finish:
AFC - Wildcard: Chiefs over Steelers, Bills
over Patriots, Bengals over Raiders NFC - Wildcard: Buccaneers over Eagles, 49ers
over Cowboys, Rams over Cardinals
AFC - Divisional: Titans over Bengals, Chiefs
over Bills NFC - Divisional: Packers over 49ers, Rams over
AFC - Conference Championship: Chiefs over Titans NFC - Conference Championship: Packers over Rams
Super Bowl: Chiefs vs. Packers
The rankings below are for those readers in similar leagues that
require you to draft players this week and keep them for the duration
of the postseason. The number inside the parentheses refers to how
many games I expect that player/unit to play.
There is not a truly dominant team in the field this year, but
Green Bay stands out as the most complete squad and the best bet
to make the Super Bowl. While Mahomes could easily play one more
game than Rodgers, I will take the quarterback with a healthier
supporting cast and a less treacherous road to the Super Bowl.
(Assuming my Wildcard predictions are right above, all three teams
that remain in the AFC after this week will be teams that have
already defeated the Chiefs this season.) Allen belongs in the
first tier for the same reason I don't have Mahomes at No. 1:
Buffalo could easily beat Kansas City again if they meet next
week and he could be the AFC quarterback with four games.
Stafford has a reputation as a streaky quarterback, which can
work for him in this kind of competition as much as it can work
against him. His 17 interceptions this season are easily his most
since 2013 and his seven interceptions over his last three outings
qualifies as one of the worst stretches of his career. The Rams
scare me as much as any team in the playoffs from a prognostication
standpoint in that we haven't seen them at their best in over
a month, but I like them more - especially at home - than a couple
of shorthanded squads in the Cardinals and (presumably) the Buccaneers.
Brady has a strong case to be the fourth quarterback above. Tampa
Bay throws as much as any team in the league and could easily
knock off the Rams if meet next week. Burrow is the last player
above with a decent to good chance to get three games. The Bengals
easily have enough firepower to upset the Titans if they meet
next week, but a team can rarely go from four wins one year to
a conference title game the next.
All of Tier 3 is capable of playing at least one more game than
I have predicted for them, but each comes with a fatal flaw. Despite
two 50-point games in the last three weeks, the Cowboys are not
as good offensively as their numbers suggest. While Prescott could
easily light up any opponent he faces, Dallas does not feel like
it is long for the postseason. Fantasy managers don't need me
to remind them how much upside Murray has, but this offense has
not been the same since he returned from his ankle injury. He
could be without James Conner on Monday night as well, taking
yet another weapon away from him. While Tannehill is probably
the best bet of the tier to play three games, he will likely be
asked to manage games for however long Tennessee remains alive.
If I didn't have the 49ers running into Green Bay next week, Garoppolo
would have a decent chance at three (or even four) games. As it
stands, I am not entirely sure he can lead his team past Dallas
with a bad thumb.
* - Assumes Conner will not play in Wildcard Round
It is not a great sign when a player coming off a layoff of roughly
three months (Henry) and a committee back (Jones) are the best
options at their position in a 14-team playoff field. Certainly,
a long playoff run from the Bucs would allow Fournette to throw
his hat in the ring, but the field as a whole is uninspiring because
most of the workhorses play for likely one-and-done teams and
the others play on offenses that rely more heavily on the passing
Cincinnati and San Francisco are probably the two teams most likely
to crash the conference championship or Super Bowl party that
most of the public could be overlooking. Both teams just happen
to have running backs that are workhorses, so there is an advantage
to be gained by going with Mixon and/or Mitchell in this kind
of competition should fantasy managers have the guts to roll with
them. It remains to be seen if the Packers will continue to lean
more heavily on Dillon in the playoffs, but the likely answer
is probably "yes." After a bit of a rough midseason patch, it
appears Jones is going to continue to operate in an Alvin
Kamara-like role and Dillon will assume a Mark
Ingram role. Playing both in this competition would not be
a bad idea and contrarian enough to pay off if both can hit big
in the conference championship as well as the Super Bowl. Edwards-Helaire's
uncertain injury status makes him just enough of a question mark
to put him at the bottom of Tier 2 even though he has
a relatively good chance to play four games this postseason.
Tier 3 includes the last options that have more than
a remote chance of making some noise in this competition. Singletary
has taken over as the primary back in Buffalo and can make a strong
case to be in Tier 2 in large part because the Bills
could play three or more games. The combination of tough matchups
and the looming threat of Cam
Akers stealing a few touches makes Michel largely unattractive
despite the possibility of playing three games. Williams' range
of outcomes is probably the widest of any back listed above. He
could play four games and be limited to 25-30 touches OR he could
log that many in one or more games if CEH has trouble staying
on the field.
There is not a lot of analysis needed for Tier 1. Adams
is probably the best bet to play three games at his position and
has shown the ability to produce regardless of the matchup. Kupp
is enjoying a historic season and might be worth using if he only
gets two games. Since I have him projected for three, it makes
the decision even easier.
The only reason Samuel finds himself in Tier 2 is that I am not
overly confident San Francisco will win in Dallas this weekend.
The 49ers' reward for pulling that upset is a (likely frigid)
road game in Green Bay. Samuel should produce regardless, but
he also does not come with the same caliber of quarterback Adams
and Kupp have. Diggs is in a similar spot as Samuel. His first-round
matchup is a toss-up and the potential second game comes against
the team I believe is the best in the conference. Brown falls
behind Diggs primarily because I think the Titans could be one-and-done.
Furthermore, Diggs' success is probably more important to Buffalo
than Brown's is to Tennessee with Derrick Henry expected back.
Evans does not figure to catch much of a break from a matchup
perspective for however long Tampa Bay stays alive, but he should
be a lock for at least eight targets in each game. As is typically
the case with Evans, he is about as good of a bet for a touchdown
as any receiver after Adams.
Tier 3 and Tier 4 could easily be one big group, but it is not
hard to imagine any of the four receivers in the former group
enjoying a multiple-touchdown performance in the postseason. The
combination of decent volume and that scoring upside separates
them from Tier 4. While we are probably past the point in OBJ's
career where he will take over a game (especially in his current
situation in LA), there is no question he has become a receiver
Matthew Stafford looks for in the red zone. We have seen examples
of the otherworldly scoring upside of Chase and Higgins in the
last month or so, but the best we can probably hope for during
a two-game stay is that each wideout has one big day. There is
an allure to Lazard because of the likelihood of a 4x game. Ultimately,
he is a touchdown-or-bust option most weeks. It is just as likely
that Adams, Jones and Dillon hog the majority of the Packers'
touchdowns this postseason. Playing him in a competition like
this is an understandable risk but probably not one worth taking.
Kelce's production this season is not dramatically different
from the numbers he posted during his record-setting 2021 campaign,
but it was a much wilder ride this time around. A late scoring
binge made this year look better than it did as late as Week 14,
but it does overshadow the fact that he has posted 34 or fewer
receiving yards in four of his last five outings. With that said,
he might be the top play at his position if he was only projected
to play two games, so putting him No. 1 with four projected games
isn't a hard thing to do.
Gronkowski has a matchup against tight end-friendly Philadelphia
this week working in his favor, but the losses of Chris Godwin
and Antonio Brown in recent weeks almost lock him into 8-10 targets
moving forward. His odds of playing three or more games are slightly
better than Kittle's, which is why he gets the nod above. I am
not expecting big things from Higbee, but three projected games
for him (and roughly six targets in each contest) should be enough
for him to rival Kittle's production if things go the Rams' way.
Even though we have not seen it much lately, Knox has considerable
scoring upside. The only reason he falls behind Higbee is that
Buffalo is more likely to be one-and-done than the Rams.
NFL.com Playoff Challenge Roster
QB: Aaron Rodgers
RB: Aaron Jones
RB: Derrick Henry
WR: Davante Adams
WR: Cooper Kupp
TE: Travis Kelce
K: Harrison Butker
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. Because I went into some
detail above, 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
There are 12 starting quarterbacks available to DFS players on Wildcard
Weekend. Only four seem highly unlikely to challenge for top honors
at the position this week. Of the eight that remain, we can probably
eliminate Burrow (the Raiders have been pounded routinely by running
backs) and Stafford (seven interceptions over the last three games).
Murray's ceiling is always very high, but he is a tough sell if
only because he has only flashed his upside once since DeAndre Hopkins
has been sidelined. It further hurts his cause that the Rams were
the third-stingiest defense against quarterbacks during the regular
season. Hurts failed to throw for a touchdown in three of his last
five games and wasn't quite the fantasy stud that he was during
the first half of the season once Philadelphia transitioned into
a run-heavy offense. Does that change now against an elite Bucs'
run defense? It could, but I am not sure I want to roll the dice
against a Todd Bowles' defense in the playoffs. Philadelphia was
picked apart by just about every "name" quarterback it
faced this season, but Brady does not feel like a great investment
this postseason either considering the losses of two of his top
three receivers. While he still has enough weapons, his $7,300 price
tag is a bit steep without his usual supporting cast.
We are left with two familiar elite quarterbacks (Allen and Mahomes)
and one that may surprise a few (Prescott). Buffalo has typically
leaned heavily on Allen just about every time it has been in a
big game this year, asking him to throw an average of 42.5 times
and run 9.9 times in six outings against this year's playoff teams.
If we forget about the blowout win in Kansas City in Week 5 and
the abnormal conditions against the Patriots in Week 13, those
averages increase to 49.8 and 10.5, respectively. Even with a
beat-up supporting cast, Mahomes does not lack for upside. With
that said, it is hard to envision him outperforming Allen when
he does not run as much as the Bills' signal-caller and does not
have Tyreek Hill (heel) at full strength. Additionally, do the
Steelers have enough offensive firepower to make things interesting
and keep Mahomes in the game? It is always possible the former
MVP throws for three scores in the first half as well, but his
$7,400 price tag is a bit rich for my tastes given the current
circumstances. Prescott ($6,400) is the best value on the board
in my opinion. Even though I remain concerned about Dallas' offense
despite two 50-point games in the last three weeks, Prescott has
been an absolute monster at home this season and gets to face
a San Francisco secondary that does not have an answer for CeeDee
Lamb or Amari Cooper. Furthermore, the 49ers have been very stingy
against running backs for well over a month, meaning the Cowboys
will likely need to rely on Prescott even more than usual.
Not only do Mixon ($6,800) and Fournette ($5,900) boast the highest
fantasy-point average of all the running backs on the slate this
week, but they also come at a reasonable price. Mixon seems like
an obvious pick for two reasons: 1) he battered the Raiders for
123 yards and two touchdowns in a Week 11 rout and 2) Las Vegas
has consistently been pounded by running backs all season - even
during its four-game winning streak to end the regular season. Relying
on the running game this weekend also makes a ton of sense given
how ferocious the Raiders' pass rush can be. There is an inherent
risk starting Fournette, who has not suited up since Week 15 with
a hamstring injury. Still, with the aforementioned losses of Godwin
and Brown - not to mention Ronald Jones (ankle) being considered
doubtful for this weekend - there is also an opportunity for Fournette
to handle 20-plus touches against the Philadelphia defense that
allowed running backs to average 25.2 fantasy points per week (ninth-most
in the league) and tally 114 catches (second-most).
One of the reasons why Mixon and Fournette are the clear top
choices in my opinion is because Conner (heel, ribs) may not be
able to go Monday night. While Jacobs and Najee Harris should
have similar workload expectations as Fournette, it seems unreasonable
to pay $600-700 more for backs who belong on lesser offenses than
Fournette. The intrigue begins (and maybe ends) at the position
after Mitchell and Damien Harris. Ultimately, only two running
backs have topped 20 fantasy points versus the Cowboys this season,
which makes Mitchell slightly less attractive than his reasonable
$5,500 price tag would suggest. Still, he is a worthy (and probably
necessary) pivot for those DFS players who want to get Cooper Kupp and Deebo Samuel in their lineups because he is a high-volume
back in a Kyle Shanahan offense. Both of the Patriots' meetings
with the Bills this year could be considered unusual games. New
England's Week 13 win was a game in which the Pats attempted three
passes and Week 16's loss was a contest in which Stevenson did
not play. Nevertheless, Harris ran for at least 100 yards and
scored at least one touchdown in both games. The Patriots will
undoubtedly rely heavily on the ground game again in what is expected
to be another chilly affair in Buffalo, so volume should not be
a problem for Harris (or Stevenson, for that matter). A troublesome
hamstring injury is the only real concern with using Harris. Edmonds
insists he will play, but he has not produced much very often
when handling the featured role. A touchdown seems unlikely with
or without Conner.
Below the top nine entries above, there do not appear to be any
real value picks as of now. Pollard ($5,300) always brings upside
because of his explosiveness, but San Francisco is stout enough
against the run that I would rather pay $200 more for Mitchell
or $400 more for Singletary. Stevenson ($4,700) would be a great
value pick if Damien Harris has a setback with his hamstring before
Saturday. Even though he is not guaranteed a workload approaching
the one that Harris figures to have, he is still worth using in
20-25 percent of lineups because of the upside he possesses and
the possibility Harris aggravates his injury during the game.
It does not seem very likely that DFS players will be able to find
many builds that feature Kupp and Samuel, but just about every lineup
should have at least one. Arizona has given up a ton of rushing
yards lately but could be getting help in the form of J.J. Watt
this week. Even if the three-time Defensive Player of the Year does
not make it back in time for Monday, the Cardinals have still only
surrendered eight total touchdowns to running backs this season.
That makes it likely Kupp will get at least one red zone score.
Samuel has touched the ball at least 10 times in four straight and
scored in three of those outings. In the one game he did not find
the end zone, he went off for 191 total yards. That Week 16 contest
was the only time he failed to score since Week 9.
With so many DFS players likely to roll with Kupp and/or Samuel,
there should be an opportunity for contrarians to hit big should
Kupp or Samuel enjoy anything less than a typical day at the office.
Due in part to his not scoring a touchdown since Week 10, I do
not have a great deal of conviction in Lamb blowing up. With that
said, San Francisco has allowed at least one receiver to score
at least 19.6 fantasy points in seven consecutive outings. With
Dallas likely to air it out at least 40 times, expect Lamb, Cooper
or Wilson to extend that streak to eight. Diggs has had a bit
of a down season, but we should all be so fortunate that a 100-catch,
10-TD season could be considered "disappointing." After
a bit of a ho-hum first half (at least by his standards), Diggs
started cooking as the season wrapped up. Even after lining up
across from stud CB J.C. Jackson on the bulk of his routes in
Week 16, Diggs was targeted 13 times and still posted a 7-85-1
line. He will need to have another big game if Buffalo hopes to
advance. Especially with the Tampa Bay receiving corps not being
what it once was, Evans is a good bet for at least eight targets
and a touchdown every week. The problem this week is the Eagles'
defense is designed to keep the action in front of them and has
been horrible against tight ends (the former helps explain the
latter), so a big Rob Gronkowski day is coming.
The mid-tier receivers I am expecting to outperform their cost
include Beckham and Davis. OBJ has not shown a great ceiling (sub-20
fantasy points in every game since joining the Rams), but he has
been enough of a factor in the red zone to pay off for his DFS
managers with touchdowns in five of his last six before last week.
Beckham's best game since joining Los Angeles may have come against
Arizona in Week 14. Ironically, one of his best games with Cleveland
this season also came versus the Cardinals. Davis has essentially
become a full-time player over the last month. He has at least
seven targets in three of four and may be Josh Allen's favorite
target inside the 20. Likely to face Jalen Mills more often than
anyone else Saturday night, Davis could flirt with 20 fantasy
points if the expected frigid game-time temperature doesn't wreak
havoc on either offense.
Based almost purely on what they have done down the stretch,
the likely two best DFS punts at receiver this weekend are Zay Jones and Byron Pringle. Jones' playing time began to increase
(and his special teams work began to decrease dramatically) in
Week 13. Starting with the Week 14 blowout loss to Kansas City,
he has drawn at least seven targets in every game and at least
eight in each of his last four. With at least five catches in
each of his last five outings, he is a good bet to reach double-digit
fantasy points against Cincy. Hunter Renfrow had one of his worst
games of the season in the first meeting with the Bengals, and
it is probably no accident he only had four targets in that one.
Some other Las Vegas receiver will need to step up. Maybe Darren Waller absorbs some extra targets, but there should be enough
volume for another Raider as well. Box-score watchers may lean
toward Mecole Hardman this weekend after he torched Denver for
eight catches, 103 yards and a touchdown in Week 18. He may have
very well earned more playing time with that effort, but his 45
routes in the season finale are more than double the amount he
had in any game since Week 9. Before Week 18, Pringle had emerged
as the top option at receiver after Hill. It is debatable how
much upside there is for any Chief pass-catcher after Travis Kelce
and Hill, but it is worth noting Pringle posted a 6-75-2 line
against Pittsburgh in Week 16.
DFS players have known for at least two months that Philadelphia
is the best defense to pick on when it comes to the tight end position.
DraftKings knows this as well, which is part of the reason why Gronkowski
($6,400) is only $300 cheaper than Kelce. At that price, it becomes
very difficult to do many builds with Gronk, Kupp and Samuel on
the same roster. Given how hard it is to find 28-point upside at
tight end and the ease of his matchup, Gronkowski is probably a
more important DFS staple this week than Kupp or Samuel (although
at least one of those two receivers should be in just about every
lineup with him).
My favorite pivots as of now are Goedert and Ertz. I would prefer
not paying in the mid-4000s for my tight end, but there is no
question both players have emerged as their quarterback's favorite
targets over the last month or two. The scary thing about Goedert
is that he has only scored a touchdown in one game since Week
4. Tampa Bay has shown some vulnerability at tight end this season
and may finally be healthy enough at cornerback to keep the Eagles'
wideouts in check this weekend. That could lead to very good volume
for Goedert, especially if Philadelphia finds itself in negative
game script late as expected. The Bengals' defense appears to
be a good matchup for someone as good as Waller to take advantage
of, but the jury is still out on how healthy he is after catching
only two of his nine targets in Week 18. While his $5,700 price
tag is a nice discount from Gronkowski and Kelce, I am just as
bullish on Goedert and Ertz for $1,200 and $1,000 less, respectively.
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
Finding the right defense/special teams unit each week often ends
up being more about luck than skill. Which defense will return a
turnover for a touchdown, force four turnovers or record seven sacks?
Kansas City is priced about right given the matchup and will probably
be on more of my DFS rosters than any other DST. With that said,
I could easily see using any of the top eight options.
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.