DFS Conference Championship Preview

What an incredible weekend we witnessed. Hard to really comprehend the scale of just how great Sunday’s games in particular were. Hopefully, you all landed in the green after reading last week’s column. Personally, I had one of my best weeks since the early part of the season. These short slates are all about building a lineup with a narrative in mind. If you try and overexpose yourself to every game it’s easy to cap your ceiling. Last week’s column was a huge one, so I won’t dive into reviewing every single play, we’ll just cover a few good and a few bad. Josh Allen and Matthew Stafford were my two favourite Quarterbacks and both came up absolutely money, scoring over 5x their salary cost. I thought Ryan Tannehill might have a sneaky tournament upside but it wasn’t to be. Backing the Big Dawg was the difference between me finishing 28th in a GPP and finishing fifth if I’d have gone with Leonard Fournette, so I feel the pain of anyone who followed my advice there. For the second straight week, Mike Evans was faded by the field but put up a WR4 performance for us. The suggested stack of Evans, Kupp and Van Jefferson scored 70.6 points to give your lineups some oomph. Whilst I did say I thought Diggs was too cheap, I also mentioned that the smart move was to leverage off Diggs in Bills stacks with Josh Allen and play the other receivers. Lastly, one I didn’t play but should have, was Mahomes, Kelce and Tyreek hitting 101.42. Whilst I did love that stack, I suggested fading Tyreek as an individual play and that was an awful choice. So that leaves us;

Great plays (3x$) – 146 (48%)

Good plays (2x$) – 81 (26%)

Bad plays (<2x$) – 77 (26%)

We’re running out of games as the season draws to a close, so if you haven’t played Showdown Captain Mode, you’re going to want to start to do so. There are huge differences in the approaches to both types of games and I’ll try and add suggestions and nuggets along the way. I’ll also add in pricing for both versions. In my opinion, Cody Main of Establish The Run is the king of Showdown and regularly tweets out some incredible pieces of information, so do give him a follow. The basic principle will always be the same though, if you create a lineup that is too chalky, you’re not winning a GPP. The two main ways you can separate your lineup is by hitting on low rostered players, or by constructing your lineup in a different way to the field. I apologise that I can’t be as definitive as I normally like to be but the nature of these small slates is so different. Build your lineup with a narrative in mind and commit to it. As we only have the two games, I’ll go game by game. If you enjoy the preview please do hit the like button on Twitter, or even better the retweet one. It helps grow the audience and makes me smile! 

Kansas City Chiefs Vs Cincinnati Bengals – Sunday 8pm UK/3pm ET

Bengals @ Chiefs Showdown slate

54.4 Over/Under

These two teams last met in Week 17 when the Bengals won 34-31, putting up 414 yards on the Chiefs, with Chase putting up 266 yards and three touchdowns, whilst no Chiefs player managed more than 53 yards receiving. Now the teams meet up again in Kansas. 

Quarterbacks

Joe Burrow – $6600 main slate/$10,400 showdown

The Titans were never a perfect matchup on paper for Burrow, they allow yardage but are stingy in allowing scores. It felt like perhaps Burrow could storm through that and continue his heroic charge, but the Titans did a good job of holding him to his lowest Draftkings score since Week 15 along with keeping the Bengals to their lowest score since that game. Now Burrow gets to take on the Chiefs who just allowed Josh Allen to throw for 329 yards and four touchdowns, a matter of weeks after Joe Burrow destroyed them and put up 446 yards and four touchdowns. Since that week 17 game the Chiefs defence has allowed 1518 passing yards in four games. A figure that looks even worse when you consider they played Drew Lock and Ben Roethlisberger in between the Joe Burrow and Josh Allen games. Over the last four games not involving Ben Roethlisberger, the Chiefs have allowed 30.5 points per game and 407.5 total yards. The hype machine is well and truly turning for the Burrow at the minute and the most impressive stat for me is that he hasn’t had a turnover-worthy play since Week 14. Burrow is the second most expensive quarterback on the slate and I wouldn’t be surprised if he’s the most rostered QB. If I roster Burrow it will be with at least two Bengals pass-catchers. Bookies have the Bengals as seven-point underdogs here and it’s hard to see this game not being pass-heavy. 

Patrick Mahomes – $7400/$11,200

The Chiefs deserved all the criticism that came their way earlier in the season, for whatever reason Mahomes did struggle against two-high safety looks, but that narrative is now in the dirt after the best pass defence in the league allowed Mahomes to put up 378 yards and 3 touchdowns, along with 69 rushing yards and another touchdown. Through ten career playoff games, Mahomes has put up over 300 yards of rushing and five touchdowns, with three games seeing him put up over 50 yards on the ground. The Bengals allowed the 13th-most yards per carry to quarterbacks this season (4.4), so I’m expecting more of the same this week. The Bengals allowed the seventh-most yards in the regular season, averaging 248 yards per game and struggled to contain A.J Brown on Saturday. Now a confident Chiefs side will present an even tougher challenge. Mahomes will get slightly dinged on this slate, with his price being the highest at Quarterback and the second-most expensive overall behind only Cooper Kupp. Yet we know what Mahomes can do and we know that stacking him with Hill and Kelce gives us the highest ceiling of the slate. This week that will cost you $19,900 of your salary, or 39.8%. I’d advise you to try building a couple of lineups like that and see how you like the additional options around it. As for Showdown slates, Mahomes is someone I view as essential, but not always in the captain spot. The $16,800 you pay for Mahomes at captain takes up almost one-third of your salary and forces constructions into a predictable route. Better to captain another player and build differently, with Mahomes in one of your flex spots. 

Running Backs

Joe Mixon – $6800/$9000

It has felt like a quiet start to the playoffs for Mixon, who has yet to put up more than 54 rushing yards as the team has shone elsewhere. What has been encouraging though is the continuing use of Mixon in the passing game. On Saturday Mixon saw seven targets, a figure he has only exceeded twice in his NFL career. This season Mixon put up the ninth-highest EPA at the position for receiving work and now faces a Chiefs defence that allowed the fourth-most receptions to the position this year, at the second-highest completion rate across the league (83.21%). Add in the negative game script that bookmakers expect and Mixon looks set to have a high-upside game ahead of him. This is all before we discuss the Chiefs allowing a bottom three 4.6 yards per carry and have held teams to under 90 rushing yards on just seven occasions this year. This play purely comes down to how much you believe Mixon and the Bengals rushing game can hang around if it develops into a shoot-out. My feeling is that even if that occurs, Mixon gets enough goal-line and passing work to keep him in play. Both Samaje Perine ($4200/$3300) and Chris Evans ($4000/$900) saw only one touch each on Saturday and neither are in consideration for the main slate, but Evans price has some attraction for Showdown. Below $1000 there are very few options who may see even as many mediocre opportunities as Evans. If you need a sub $1k dart throw for Showdown, keep him in consideration and hope he pays off a cheap price with few opportunities.

Clyde Edwards-Helaire – $5300/$7000

Edwards-Helaire returned to the lineup after sitting out since Week 16 through injury and despite not getting the start he was an important part of the offence, averaging 8.5 yards per carry against a good run defence. The game against the Bills descended into such chaos that it suited Jerrick McKinnon ($5100/$5000) and his pass-catching skill-set more than CEH. Against the Bengals in a scenario that on paper favours the Chiefs more, it seems logical to back Edwards-Helaire more than McKinnon for the main slate. In Showdown McKinnon’s discounted price versus CEH of $2000 is very interesting. If you’re starting CEH in a main-slate lineup it makes sense to do so with fewer Chiefs pass catchers. We want to envision a game where the Chiefs give him plenty of touches rather than spreading the ball around. Darrell Williams ($4200/$1200) missed out again due to his toe injury and it remains to be seen if he’ll play this week. If Williams is healthy and active he’s an attractive price for a player who has led the Chiefs backfield this season in rushing attempts, yardage, touchdowns, receptions and virtually every metric that matters. The last time these teams met the Bengals allowed the Chiefs to rush for 155 yards, and since then have allowed 448 rushing yards in three games. Whilst it’s attractive to focus on the passing offence, both of the running attacks are worth consideration.

Wide Receivers

The Bengals have settled into a system that works for them, relying heavily on eleven personnel formations (One RB, One TE & 3 WR’s). When in this personnel the lineup brings little surprise. Ja’Marr Chase ($6700/$10,000) continues his journey to the moon, despite the Titans doing a relatively good job on him. Chase saw his lowest team target share since Week 12 (17.1%) but yet still had his fourth-straight game with over 100 yards. No other receiver left in the playoffs has more than Chase’s 18 targets so far, a figure tied with Kupp and Hill. When teams look to stop Chase from breaking deep gains he simply works closer to the line of scrimmage, which translated to an average depth of target of 3.7 in this weekend’s game, his lowest since Week 8. Simply put, the Bengals will find ways to get Chase the ball and Burrow trusts Chase implicitly, the only reasons to fade him come down to lineup construction. Tee Higgins ($5700/$7800) is clearly the WR2 behind Chase and like last week comes in at an attractive price that will catch the attention. Last week the disparity in some large-field GPP’s was as much as 17% for Higgins and 34% for Chase. I would expect this week with fewer players available that the gap closes dramatically. Despite Higgins facing relatively little competition outside of Chase, he has struggled at times, with five or fewer targets in three of his last five games and aside from Week 16’s meeting with a depleted Ravens secondary Higgins has no touchdowns since Week 13. Higgins is a solid stacking option and has the potential to change the outlook of your team, but he’s not a must-play. Tyler Boyd ($4200/$4800) has become the overlooked man in Cincinnati, with only six games over 50 yards this season and a disappointing 4.0 receptions per game. Whilst 48 yards a game can be a solid floor for a slot receiver, Boyd came alive in the red zone over the last few weeks with four touchdowns in five games. The Chiefs just allowed Cole Beasley eight targets in the slot, and it’s easy to create a story for yourself where Boyd picks up a similar amount and scores a touchdown, for me, I’m only playing Boyd as part of Bengals stacks. Despite a reasonable floor, Boyd has only eight playoff targets and has been out-targeted by Chase (18), Uzomah (14), Higgins (13) and Mixon (12).

The Chiefs have settled into a familiar pattern with Tyreek Hill ($7000/$10’800) back to his dominant ways and putting up his fourth 30+ point game of the season. Tyreek’s $7000 salary this week is the best cost to ceiling play according to this humble analyst’s opinion. Whilst Cooper Kupp has two more 30+ point games than Hill, Kupp only has one game that crept into the 40s, whilst Tyreek Hill has two. The Chiefs play in a way that leads to more shootouts, whilst Sean McVay continues to run the ball as often as he can get away with. Tyreek is my number one must play of the slate and in Showdown he’s also the best choice for the Captain position. The field tends to gravitate towards Quarterbacks at Captain but more often the winning lineups feature a receiver there. The last time these teams met the Chiefs were below par and Tyreek put up 6-40, for a player of his calibre it feels a little too cautious to try and read into that game too deeply, particularly when Hill has averaged 91.1 yards per game in the playoffs through 12 career appearances. Byron Pringle ($4300/$5200) has leap-frogged Mecole Hardman ($4000/$4600) again running a route on 81.8% of routes, compared to Hardman’s 35.8%. Since Week 9 Hardman has just one game with more than four targets, whilst Pringle has five or more targets in four of the last five. This is how things have played out for the last two years in the playoffs with Pringle out-targeting Hardman by 24-18 and has three touchdowns to Hardman’s one. Pringle’s upside isn’t huge, but it’s a more reliable floor than Hardman’s. The difference in price is small enough that you can pick your poison. I lean towards Pringle but will play Hardman in showdown lineups and if I can’t squeeze up to Pringle, I’d put Hardman into a Chiefs stack. Last week I wrote “Demarcus Robinson ($3800/$3000) has just three touchdowns as a part of an offence that has scored 37 passing touchdowns this year, and he has surpassed three receptions just once all season. He’s an extreme dart throw at best in large Chief’s stacks” – since then the only thing to change is the number of touchdowns the Chiefs have had, and Robinson saw one single target in a game where Mahomes threw 44 times. Robinson doesn’t even come into my consideration for Showdown competitions. Outside of Robinson all the receivers in this section have a strong chance of hitting value, and I would prioritise them in this order:

Hill, Chase, Higgins, Pringle, Boyd, Hardman.

For Showdown, both Tyreek Hill and Ja’Maar Chase make excellent captain choices. I would be tempted to play either of them as captain with their QB in the flex and then four of the opposing team making up the rest of the lineup. 

Tight Ends

Travis Kelce ($6500/$8800) is the clear star of this position group this weekend, and as such should be the highest rostered tight end. Over Kelce’s last five games he has six touchdowns and has averaged 24.6 DK points. Meanwhile, the other three big tight ends have put up a combined 3 touchdowns between them in that time period. In the Mahomes era, Kelce averages 6.6 targets per game in the playoffs with 0.7 touchdowns per game and this year his yards/reception has jumped from 12.2 in the regular season to 15.7 in the postseason. Simply put, Kelce delivers in the big games and now faces the defence that gave up the sixth-most fantasy points to tight ends in the regular season. Kelce is a smash for the main slate and a fine play in the Captain spot on Showdown slates. 

C.J Uzomah – $3400/$5600

Uzomah was a trap-play at times during the season, but down the stretch has been relied upon heavily, seeing six or more targets in six of the last seven games. At this price, particularly on the main slate, Uzomah will attract attention as part of Bengals stacks, as a bring-back to Chiefs stacks and as part of double TE rosters. The Chiefs kept Dawson Knox to 2.9 points, following up a Week 18 matchup against Denver where Noah Fant was kept to 2.6 points, and since Week 9 only one tight end has gone over 10 points against the Chiefs (Dalton Schultz – 11.3 DK points). In a 54.5 point over/under it’s tough to fade anyone who sees consistent volume, but I’m not treating Uzomah as a priority. 

Showdown only consideration

Evan McPherson – K – $4000 – Expect the stud kicker to be popular, but it’s well deserved. The Rookie has scored an average of 13.6 DK points per game over his last five games and has just two single-digit games over the last half of the season. Below this price range, there are very few interesting players who have anywhere near the floor of either kicker. Harrison Butker ($4200) is a potential leverage play in the same price range and most likely far less rostered.

Chiefs – DST – $3600 – The Chiefs are a bottom-three team in sack rate (4.8%) and only hit Josh Allen twice last week. After Joe Burrow took nine sacks expect people to chase this play, but for me, I’d rather take a kicker, or spend the salary elsewhere. 

Noah Gray – TE – $800 – Gray marginally out targets Blake Bell ($200) and has seen some designed plays involving him in recent weeks. The Chiefs love their whacky plays and below $1000 he stands out the most. 

L.A Rams Vs San Francisco 49ers – Sunday 11:30pm U.K/6:30pm E.T

49ers @ Rams Showdown Slate

46.0 Over/under

Much is made of the 49ers six straight victories over the Rams, but three of those have been by a single field goal, and the playoffs tend to shake out a little bit differently. Kyle Shanahan has made McVay his baby in these matchups but McVay is too good a manager to not make adjustments ahead of this game. This game is projected for 8.5 fewer points than the AFC Championship and there’s no doubt that the AFC side of things looks more explosive. The 49ers love to slow the game down with their run game and particularly do so against the Rams. More on that later…

Quarterbacks

Matthew Stafford – $6300/$10,800

Stafford has run pure in the playoffs so far completing 75.1% of his 55 passes, putting up 568 yards and four touchdowns. Arguably his output could and should have been higher but the Cardinals put up so little resistance Stafford was hardly needed in the Wild Card Round. Whilst some have suggested the Rams should have killed the Buccs off earlier on Sunday, the mistakes were two Cam Akers fumbles and an errant snap. Despite the 49ers having a love for slowing things down, Stafford remains in play as he’s had seven games this year with at least one pass of 50+ yards, and as we saw with Cooper Kupp on Sunday, one pass is all it takes. 

Jimmy Garoppolo – $5400/$9000

It feels dumb to even include Handsome James in this section, because of late, he hasn’t done much quarterbacking. This Sunday will be the three week anniversary of Garoppolo’s last passing touchdown. In the playoffs, Garoppolo is behind Travis Kelce (1) in touchdowns thrown. EPA is a valuable stat and says plenty of good things, but anyone who has watched the games or glanced at a box score knows that Jimmy isn’t helping the team with his play. Luckily for the team, Jimmy’s nice-guy attitude and general aura helps them win each week apparently and the team are 3-0 in the playoffs when Garoppolo doesn’t throw a touchdown! On Wednesday Ian Rapport reported that Garoppolo’s shoulder is now better and it’s just the thumb injury holding up his play. Since Week 14 the 49ers have gone from scoring on a league-best 73.8% of red-zone trips, all the way down to 37.5%. You know my feelings about Garoppolo and I won’t apologise for them, if you can make an argument to play him, I’d love to hear it. The best I can do is to say Garoppolo has thrown for an average of 251.4 yards and 1.4 touchdowns per game against the Rams over the last three seasons and completed 70.5% of his attempts. 

Running Backs

The Rams backfield looks set to become even murkier this week if Darrell Henderson ($4500/$2800) is activated off I.R. Whilst Henderson has been on I.R Cam Akers ($5000/$7000) has reclaimed his spot as the top dog, but after an explosive start the hype train has slowed down somewhat and through two playoff games Akers has had 41 attempts for 103 rushing yards putting up a woeful 2.5 YPC, that’s without mentioning the two potentially costly fumbles on Sunday. Where Akers has excelled is the receiving game with 15 yards per reception and whilst the Buccs were always going to be a tough opponent to break on the ground, with the fumbles almost costing the game perhaps we see a more diverse backfield this week. Sony Michel ($4600/$4800) hasn’t put a foot wrong in his limited opportunities, seeing almost a third of Akers touches, but averaging a healthy 4.4 YPC. A good chunk of those came in the Cardinals game that was out of reach, but I feel strongly that McVay will seek to use more of a rotation this week. Combine this tricky looking backfield with an opponent who allowed the seventh-fewest rushing yards per game (103.5), the fifth-fewest yards per attempt (4.0) and who were a top-six defence against running backs in fantasy, and it becomes very difficult to decide what to do here. In a slate of icky options I would be fine starting Akers, but build your lineup knowing he’ll be chalky and might not pay off. The ballsy move is to fade him and play Michel, hoping for a couple of touchdowns, but it’s not a safe play by any means. In Showdown slates I’d be prepared to play both Akers and Michel as part of Rams onslaughts (five Rams players in a lineup). As of Thursday Henderson remains on I.R.

Elijah Mitchell ($5900/$8200) is unquestionably the only back worth considering in the Niners offence, but his ceiling will remain capped whilst Deebo Samuel hoovers up carries in this team. Over the last four games, Mitchell has seen 86 carries and averaged 88.2 yards per game. If over that period Mitchell had seen more passing work (1.5 receptions per game) or touchdowns (0.16 per game) he’d have been a real smash play coming into this weekend. As it is, his 14.2 DK points per game over the last four is quite respectable compared to some of the options on this slate. The Rams have been a good rushing defence most of the year, putting up very similar numbers to the Niners but Shanahan loves to run on the Rams and in two games against them this year only threw the ball on 16.7% and 26.7% of neutral pass situations. The Rams come into this matchup on the back of allowing 31.7 DK points to Leonard Fournette, so it really is a tough position to get a hold on. I like lineups with Mitchell in and fading Deebo, in the hopes that Mitchell secures the touchdowns and use the salary cap elsewhere for players like Kupp, Kelce and Mahomes. That doesn’t mean I’m wholly against lineups with Deebo and Mitchell in, these short slates require us to get a bit weird sometimes and a Niners heavy stack (minus Jimmy) might be the ticket. For Showdown slates Kyle Juszczyk ($1600) is the only other Rams backfield player I would consider.

Wide Receivers

Cooper Kupp ($8800/$12,200) comes in at a friendly price on a price-friendly slate. Make no mistake, Draftkings want you to feel like you can jam all the studs in. If you feel good, they know you’ll play plenty. Anyhow, you shouldn’t need a whole lot of selling on Cooper Kupp, he has seven 30+ point games this year and is by far a better player than anyone in the Niners secondary. In two games against the Niners this year Kupp has put up a combined 18 catches for 240 yards and one touchdown. Kupp is the single-most desirable play on this slate for me and he makes an excellent captain choice for Showdown competitions. Over the last three games, Odell Beckham ($5100/$8600) has seen a 20% target share compared to Van Jefferson’s 7.6% Whilst Beckham only managed 2-18 in both matchups against the Niners, it feels very unlikely he’ll do so again. Van Jefferson ($3900/$5000) faded after seeing good usage when Robert Woods first went out, a period that coincided with Beckham becoming acclimated to the team and Higbee missing time. With Akers now also healthy it feels like Van Jefferson is left to pick up breadcrumbs and whilst the price is attractive I’ll only consider him as part of a Rams stack or for Showdown contests. The Niners passing defence has allowed the fourth-highest completion rate this season (68.3%) and despite them holding Aaron Rodgers in check, this feels like a big game for the Rams pass-catchers.

Deebo Samuel ($7200/$10,000) put up his lowest score since Week 9 and only his second game of the season below 12 points in the game against Green Bay. In two games against the Rams, Samuel has combined for 29.63 DK points and has a season average of 21.3. It really comes down to which studs you prefer when deciding on Deebo. It’s possible to fit Kupp, Deebo and Tyreek into a lineup should you wish, but the issue becomes cumulative rostership levels and whether you’re gaining an edge on your opponents. Personally, I like using Deebo as the only player from the Niners on Rams stacks, or combining him with Kittle as a mini-stack. We’ve already addressed the fact that we don’t need to stack with Jimmy Garoppolo. Brandon Aiyuk ($5600/$6200) is a fine play within his own right but only has one game over 15 points since Week 14, so it’s fair to say his ceiling is low. I would expect Aiyuk to be one of the more owned budget options, which makes him a fade for me on the main slate, but he is in play for Showdown. At $700 cheaper Jauan Jennings ($4900/$2200) is intriguing, having seen consistent usage on third and fourth downs of late. The team trusts him and he’s very much in play for Showdown slates. 

I like Showdown lineups that are built with either Kupp or Deebo at Captain and then leaning heavily into a passing first script. It’s not indicative of the way previous games have gone, but the playoffs do strange things sometimes. 

Tight Ends

Last week I talked (angrily) about George Kittle ($5000/$7400) and his lack of usage, not just in these playoffs but also historically with the Niners in the postseason, so it might surprise you to hear that I’m high on him for this week. The Rams allow by far their most passing completions in the middle of the field, not far from the line of scrimmage, an area that Garoppolo targets more than any other part of the field. 69% of George Kittle’s catches this season have occurred in that area of the field according to @SmolaDS (an excellent follow by the way). If the Niners are going to get past the Rams they have to use Kittle for a change. The Rams were a top ten defence against tight ends this season, but it’s not going to put me off here, despite my Jimmy-related hang-ups. I’ll have plenty of Kittle on the main slate and will be tempted to use him in the Captain slot for Showdown games too. 

Tyler Higbee ($3700/$5200) is the cheapest he has been all season as Draftkings soften up the prices for this slate. In two games against the Niners he has combined for 34.5 DK points and over the last three weeks has become the number two pass-catching option in this offence. Whilst the Niners have been a top ten unit against tight ends this year they’ve allowed plenty of blow-up games with games of 15.9 and 23.5 preceding Josiah Degura’s zero last week. Higbee works for me in all formats and all types of lineups. At his price, I would expect him to be a popular pick to play in the flex and help get up to studs elsewhere. 

Showdown only consideration

Kyle Juszczyk – $1600 – Averages 4.1 points per game. It’s a little pricey but can pay off. 

Kendall Blanton – $1000 – Scored his first career touchdown last week. I would use him in lineups without Higbee as leverage in case Higbee is quiet.

Mohammed Sanu Sr. – $200 – Activated off I.R this week. Sanu saw 22 targets over the last six games he played. Sanu is the most interesting of the minimum salary options available. 

If you’ve made it this far, thank you as always. I appreciate all the support this season. Your likes and retweets on Twitter really have helped the audience grow. 

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