NFL Grind Down: Conference Championships

Welcome to the RotoGrinders NFL Grind Down, an all-encompassing preview of the week ahead in the NFL from a daily fantasy sports perspective. We’ll provide all the statistics, insights and analysis you need to set your lineups for this week’s contests.

Every game will be broken down statistically, with several key elements highlighted in our charts. Vegas lines are broken down to show projected team totals, to give you an idea of who is favored to win, and often more importantly, how many points they’re expected to score. We also provide a look at how each team fares against opposing offenses from a fantasy points allowed perspective and include some statistics for key players on each team as well.

Each contest is then analyzed team-by-team, with a focus on finding matchups to exploit and trends to follow. These breakdowns now feature “Matchup Rating,” which factors in projected point totals, pace, and offense versus defense data to compile an all-around rating that helps determine how favorable of a fantasy matchup each team has this week.

Note: As always, if you want to try a new DFS site, be sure to click through a RotoGrinders link and use the code “GRINDERS”.

INJURIES – I will update all notable injuries/suspensions on Saturday morning after we have final injury reports

Pittsburgh Steelers at New England Patriots

Pittsburgh Steelers New England Patriots
Vegas Odds Spread Total Proj.Pts Vegas Odds Spread Total Proj.Pts
5.5 50 22.25 -5.5 50 27.75
Tm Stats PPG Scoring Pass Rush Tm Stats PPG Scoring Pass Rush
Offense 24.8 11 12 6 Offense 27.9 4 6 9
Opp. Defense 15.6 1 11 5 Opp. Defense 19.7 8 18 9
Opp. Def vs. Pos QB RB WR TE Opp. Def vs. Pos QB RB WR TE
New England Patriots 8 6 6 8 Pittsburgh Steelers 4 24 4 19
Rec. Stats Targets Receptions TDs Yards Rec. Stats Targets Receptions TDs Yards
Brown 174 117 14 1,516 Edelman 173 106 3 1,243
Heyward-Bey 20 7 2 124 Hogan 62 42 4 775
Rogers 74 54 3 640 Amendola 31 23 4 245
Green 34 18 1 304 Bennett 77 56 7 705

Notable injuries and suspensions: Danny Amendola (NE WR) – Questionable (Ankle) / Martellus Bennett (NE TE) – Questionable but expected to play (Knee) / Chris Hogan (NE WR) – Questionable but expected to play (Thigh) / Malcolm Mitchell (NE WR) – Questionable but expected to play (Knee)

PIT Matchup Rating: 6.5
NE Matchup Rating: 7.5

Pittsburgh Steelers

Quarterback: This week is going to be fun with two great football games. We still have some pretty good sized DFS contests for this weekend, and while I wouldn’t suggest playing cash games on a two game slate, it does give us one final opportunity to take down a GPP. The Steelers have the lowest team total of all four teams in action, but they are still projected for a decent 22 points. We could very easily have two high-scoring games here. All four quarterbacks on this slate are dynamic in their own right, but Roethlisberger is the riskiest of the bunch with the Steelers having a low team total. He is also playing on the road in a tough environment, and he is coming off a poor showing against the Chiefs in the Divisional Round. I will avoid Roethlisberger on FanDuel, as he doesn’t come at enough of a discount. However, he is interesting as a GPP option given his discounted price tag on DraftKings.

Running Backs: There is no doubt that Le’Veon Bell is a safe option that also carries tons of upside. That has value, especially on a two game slate. If you fade Bell and he goes bananas, you aren’t winning a GPP. However, a performance similar to last week’s won’t kill you. Even though he ran for 170 yards last week, he didn’t find the end zone and was uncharacteristically not involved in the passing game. He’s extremely expensive, and you will have to choose value options at other positions if you want to fit him in. If I was multi-entering GPPs this week, I would probably put him on about half my lineups. I expect that to be under-weight compared to the field, but that’s around where I stand. Of course, there is always the potential that he will dwarf the production of any other running back on the slate.

Pass Catchers: It is really difficult to peg the Steelers this week, since their team total is relatively low, yet they have expensive options at running back with Bell and wide receiver with Antonio Brown. I actually think this is a game where Brown will need to do a lot of work, and the Patriots have been weaker against the pass (23rd ranked DVOA) than the run (4th ranked DVOA) this year. New England also ranks just 20th in DVOA against #1 wide receivers, as they don’t have a true shut down corner. I like Brown here, and game flow could dictate more usage if the team falls behind. If you are looking for a cheaper piece, Jesse James and Eli Rogers combined for 13 targets last week. Outside of Brown, James, Rogers, and Bell, no Pittsburgh player had more than one target. These guys are the clear peripheral pieces, and they can be used as viable value picks on a limited two game slate.

The Takeaway: The Steelers have the lowest total on the board, which makes it hard to trust their core pieces this week. I prefer Antonio Brown to Le’Veon Bell based on the matchups this week, but I will certainly have exposure to both guys. Ben Roethlisberger is much more viable on DraftKings than on FanDuel, while his secondary receivers in Rogers and James are viable value options at their respective positions.

New England Patriots

Quarterback: Even though Bill Belichick isn’t on SnapFace or InstantChat, you know he has a game plan designed for this week’s game against the Steelers. He’s a master tactician (some would say cheater) and always has his team ready to play. Tom Brady, of course, is just fine if you are looking for a stable quarterback on this slate. I think both quarterbacks in the later game offer more upside this week, but there’s certainly nothing wrong with opting for Brady. My one concern is that the Steelers defense has been much improved since the middle of the season, but the Patriots are a matchup-proof machine, and it’s not like the Steelers are rolling out the Steel Curtain these days. Brady is fine, but I prefer both Ryan and Rodgers at similar prices in DFS here.

Running Backs: This is a tough spot to peg most weeks because of the committee approach that the Patriots use, and the usage of the three guys often depends on game flow. Dion Lewis was the lead man last week, and he played on 33 snaps (48% of the team’s offensive plays). He showed more explosiveness than the other two backs, but it is worth noting that LeGarrette Blount had been ill heading up into the game. Still, Lewis is the explosive play-maker, and he should be on the field plenty this week. He also returned a kickoff for a touchdown against the Texans. To add to the drama, he also lost a fumble, and we all know that his coach won’t put up with any more of those. It’s tough to play Blount thanks to the committee backfield, as his upside is a bit capped even when he is playing a full complement of snaps. James White is strictly a boom/bust GPP punt option, and he only saw 12 snaps last week.

Pass Catchers: In the last eight New England games, Julian Edelman has received 11 or more targets in seven of them. Tom Brady is locked into Edelman as his #1 option, especially since Malcolm Mitchell went out with injury. He simply doesn’t have another wide receiver to rely on, as Chris Hogan is not a reliable option, while Michael Floyd has only been with the team for a couple months. Martellus Bennett has been dealing with nagging injuries all year. Edelman is one of the safest wide receiver plays on the board this week, and he’s a virtual lock if for some reason you are playing cash games. Even on a two game slate, it’s tough to trust anyone else in this group. I prefer Jesse James to Bennett if you are looking for a value tight end, and Hogan is a risk/reward GPP option only.

The Takeaway: The Patriots are favored by five points here, so they are projected to score around 27 points in this one. The fantasy options are somewhat limited, though, because they spread the ball around so well. Julian Edelman is by far the most appealing option, and Tom Brady is definitely playable at quarterback. The problem is that he’s less exciting than both quarterbacks in the other game. Dion Lewis appears to be the favored running back option now, but the team’s rotation at the position is always a moving target. New England’s defense will probably be the chalk pick at that position for this small slate, too.

Green Bay Packers at Atlanta Falcons

Green Bay Packers Atlanta Falcons
Vegas Odds Spread Total Proj.Pts Vegas Odds Spread Total Proj.Pts
5 61 28 -5 61 33
Tm Stats PPG Scoring Pass Rush Tm Stats PPG Scoring Pass Rush
Offense 28.0 3 4 22 Offense 33.9 1 2 5
Opp. Defense 25.1 26 27 17 Opp. Defense 24.0 19 32 10
Opp. Def vs. Pos QB RB WR TE Opp. Def vs. Pos QB RB WR TE
Atlanta Falcons 31 25 21 27 Green Bay Packers 27 8 32 25
Rec. Stats Targets Receptions TDs Yards Rec. Stats Targets Receptions TDs Yards
Nelson 155 98 14 1,270 Jones 137 89 7 1,476
Cobb 99 72 7 788 Sanu 86 63 5 697
Adams 143 88 13 1,198 Gabriel 57 40 6 659
Cook 71 41 2 529 Toilolo 23 15 2 290

Notable injuries and suspensions: James Starks (GB RB) – Out (Concussion) / Jordy Nelson (GB WR) – Questionable but expected to play (Ribs) / Geronimo Allison (GB WR) – Questionable but expected to play (Hamstring) / Davante Adams (GB WR) – Questionable but expected to play (Ankle)

GB Matchup Rating: 8.5
ATL Matchup Rating: 9.0

Green Bay Packers

Editor’s Note: Jordy Nelson, Davante Adams, and Geronimo Allison are all officially ACTIVE for Sunday’s NFC Championship game.

Quarterback: This game is pushing to possibly have the highest closing Vegas total in NFL history. It’s going to be a fun shootout between the two quarterbacks that are the two favorites to win the MVP award this year. Aaron Rodgers has been the best player on the planet in recent weeks, almost single-handedly carrying his team forward in must win game after must win game. Some of the plays he makes are unreal, and we start to take them for granted after a while. Atlanta has a weak overall defense, though the DVOA metrics suggest they are weaker against the run than the pass. That’s not enough to move the needle against Aaron Rodgers. Ride the wave of the most explosive quarterback over the past two months in any format.

Running Backs: When push comes to shove, it still appears as though Mike McCarthy will use Ty Montgomery as his lead back. Christine Michael didn’t see a single carry last week, and Montgomery punched in a pair of goal line scores. It is very much notable that he got those carries over Aaron Ripkowski, who saw just four carries. Montgomery, on the other hand, logged a healthy 11 carries along with six targets in the passing game. If you aren’t paying up for Bell this week, you have a few guys in the mid range you can consider in Montgomery, Dion Lewis, and both guys from the Falcons. Montgomery at least deserves consideration among those guys, especially against the Falcons’ 29th ranked DVOA rush defense. I’ll side with him as a slight favorite over Lewis if you are comparing those two.

Pass Catchers: At this point, it doesn’t sound like Jordy Nelson is going to be able to play this week. Assuming this is the case, you can look to the same guys we targeted a week ago. Aaron Rodgers used his tight ends prominently, firing eleven targets at Jared Cook while throwing a touchdown to both Cook and Richard Rodgers. Cook went over 100 yards on the day and had that great catch on the sideline to set up the game-winning field goal. He will be MASSIVELY owned this week, and he is a lock and load tight end option. If you want to play the risk/reward approach, here is the guy you can try to fade. On a two game slate, please note that fading Cook is an extreme risk/reward play. If he outscores all the other tight ends by a wide margin (which is very possible), you likely aren’t going to cash. Randall Cobb and Davante Adams were relatively quiet against Dallas, but they did combine to catch 12 passes. I would be surprised if both were held out of the end zone for a second straight week. Geronimo Allison is once again viable as a low-cost target as well.

SATURDAY UPDATE – Mike McCarthy says all his wide receivers are going to be “available.” I have no idea what that means, and this is going to be a very tricky spot. Nelson, Adams, and Allison are all dealing with injuries, but it’s still hard to envision these guys being healthy with limited practice reps. Cobb and Cook are by far your safest options here.

The Takeaway: This game is going to be a whole lot of fun, and there’s not much to hate with both teams potentially pushing for 30+ points. From Rodgers to Montgomery to Cook to the other wide receivers, you can target any skill player from this Green Bay team. However, if Jordy Nelson plays, that throws quite the wrench in the plans. Right now, I am not expecting that to happen.

Atlanta Falcons

Quarterback: In the battle of MVP candidates, it will be interesting to see who performs better. I think Ryan has the slight edge for the season-long MVP award, but Rodgers is playing great football at this point in time. The good news for Ryan is that Green Bay is very limited in the secondary thanks to injuries and ineffectiveness. Ryan threw for 338 yards and three scores against Seattle last week, and I wouldn’t expect him to slow down in a projected high scoring game this week. The Falcons offense is explosive at home, and Ryan has plenty of weapons at his disposal. It’s literally splitting hairs trying to figure out the Ryan vs. Rodgers debate.

Running Backs: Picking correctly between the two Atlanta running backs might make or break your week. In fact, you can certainly make a case for playing them both on the same lineup. That is especially true on DraftKings where you can roster one in a FLEX position. Though Green Bay has been stronger against the run than the pass this season, we have seen them have more difficulty against good running games. Devonta Freeman saw a handful of extra touches last week and found the end zone on the ground, while Tevin Coleman found the end zone on his only pass reception. Freeman does usually see 4-6 extra touches compared to Coleman, but Freeman is also more expensive. It’s literally a toss up between these two on a weekly basis, and I will have exposure to both in my GPP lineups. If you are a single entry person, I would see where the rest of my roster construction takes me before deciding. If you need the value, step down to Coleman If you can afford Freeman, take that route.

Pass Catchers: Ladarius Gunter tried to cover Dez Bryant last week, and Dez walked away from the game with a 9/132/2 line. Now, Gunter has to deal with Julio Jones. Good luck with that. The best chance Green Bay has to slow Jones down is to try to have Gunter step on his toes on every pass route (I am not advocating this). Assuming he is anywhere close to 100%, Jones is the top overall receiver on the slate, slightly ahead of Antonio Brown. Mohamed Sanu and Taylor Gabriel are reasonable value options, though their targets are inconsistent when Jones is healthy. In a projected shootout, it wouldn’t surprise me to see Sanu get 7-8 targets or to see Gabriel bust a long touchdown. The running backs are solid in the passing game and are more reliable than trying to peg a tight end here.

The Takeaway: Atlanta has the highest team total of the week at a whopping 32 points. Fire up any and all skill position players. This is going to be a fantastic football game, and it should feature plenty of DFS excitement along the way.

Thanks for following along with the Grind Down all year long, and enjoy the Super Bowl and the off-season! We’ll see you next year!

About the Author


  • plew1776

    Thanks for all the hard work this year! These write ups were a great help…I had my best season by far. This is season 3 for me. You’re awesome, Cards!

  • dgballer

    You really need to get over the whole Belicheat theme. I could understand it if the Pats only won once in a while but a 17 year dominance and 6 straight AFC Champ appearances speaks for itself.

  • Hoss_Man

    @dgballer said...

    You really need to get over the whole Belicheat theme. I could understand it if the Pats only won once in a while but a 17 year dominance and 6 straight AFC Champ appearances speaks for itself.

    It just means he’s been a good cheater for a long time. ;)

  • Orangeman96

    This is going to be a +100 total points type of week, can feel it!

  • littlebrows

    “The best chance Green Bay has to slow Jones down is to try to have Gunter step on his toes on every pass route (I am not advocating this).” – Hilarious

  • mrcwoodall23

    Hilarious indeed!

  • PocketMonster

    Since I’ve been playing DFS I’ve learned a few things along the way…..Bill Belicheat hates my fantasy team and certain coaches will always break your heart….I’ve lost due to Mike’s Shananagins….I’ve been Norv’ed, Fox’ed and Pop’ed but the one coach I can always count on to deliver the goods is you JVZ thanks for all your work on these articles, always very informative!

  • emac

    • 507

      RG Overall Ranking

    • Ranked #95

      RG Tiered Ranking

    Great work as always Cards!


    Thanks for all of your hard work dedicated to these weekly breakdowns….its very much appreciated…this is my go to site as a result…many thanks!!

  • Polodub007

    Sanu or Gabriel??

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