NFL Grind Down: Divisional Round


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.

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Atlanta Falcons Philadelphia Eagles
Vegas Odds Spread Total Proj.Pts Vegas Odds Spread Total Proj.Pts
-3 41 22 3 41 19
Tm Stats PPG Scoring Pass Rush Tm Stats PPG Scoring Pass Rush
Offense 22.3 3 1 3 Offense 0.0 0 0 0
Opp. Defense 18.4 4 18 1 Opp. Defense 19.3 8 13 9
Opp. Def vs. Pos QB RB WR TE Opp. Def vs. Pos QB RB WR TE
Philadelphia Eagles 10 2 20 15 Atlanta Falcons 18 11 18 12
Rec. Stats Targets Receptions TDs Yards Rec. Stats Targets Receptions TDs Yards
Jones 147 92 4 1,458 Jeffery 118 56 9 781
Sanu 93 64 5 707 Agholor 92 59 8 757
Gabriel 50 33 1 378 Smith 65 36 2 430
Hooper 67 49 3 506 Ertz 108 72 8 800

Notable injuries and suspensions: None

ATL Matchup Rating: 6.0
PHI Matchup Rating: 5.5

Atlanta Falcons

Quarterback: Atlanta checks in as road favorites over the top seed in the NFC, which shows you how the Eagles have fallen since losing starting quarterback Carson Wentz. On the Atlanta side, it has been a dismal year for Matt Ryan. However, he does have playoff experience, and the Falcons showed some life on offense in the playoff opener against the Rams. They could be ready to click on all cylinders at the right time. The Eagles have a very solid defense, but they can be vulnerable to the pass at times. If you are a believer in “playoff Matt Ryan you can make a case for him this week, but there’s certainly no reason that you have to go here.

Running Backs: As I predicted in last week’s Grind Down, the Falcons made a concerted effort to stick to the ground game against the Rams. The game plan worked to perfection, and Atlanta attempted 39 rushing attempts as a team in the win. Devonta Freeman out-carried Tevin Coleman 18 to 14, and Freeman does generally get the upper hand in the snap count distribution. The sledding will be much more difficult this week against an Eagles defense that allowed the fewest rushing yards in the NFL this season. I can’t endorse Freeman or Coleman as anything more than affordably priced GPP darts. This is a much more imposing matchup than what we saw a week ago.

Pass Catchers: If the Falcons have a path to win this game, they need to keep Julio Jones heavily involved in the game plan. He caught a touchdown last week after having just three during the regular season, and he grabbed nine of his ten targets for 94 yards in the win. If you are spending up at wide receiver this week, I prefer Jones to Antonio Brown, who has a very tough matchup against the Jaguars. Mohamed Sanu very nearly broke a game-clinching touchdown late in the contest, and I still like him as an affordable mid-range option. Salary savers are hard to come by on this slate, so don’t discount Sanu. Austin Hooper has disappeared a lot more of late and isn’t really on my radar here.

The Takeaway: Atlanta smartly committed to the run last week, but they will likely have to sling it a little more against the Eagles, who quietly have one of the best rush defenses in the league. Matt Ryan has the playoff experience, but he is nowhere near a must play. If I am targeting this offense, the wide receivers are probably the best paths to go down. Julio Jones is my #1 overall wide receiver on the board, while Mohamed Sanu is a solid salary saver on a week where value is difficult to come by.

Philadelphia Eagles

Quarterback: Nick Foles looked great in his first start against the Giants, but he went downhill in the final two weeks of the season (though he didn’t play much in Week 17). I am skeptical of his ability to lead this team to postseason success, and Vegas agrees. That’s why the #1 seed is a home underdog to the #6 seed. Atlanta doesn’t have a strong overall defense, but their pass rush can create some problems, as it did for Jared Goff a week ago. Foles is nothing more than a deep, risk/reward GPP dart throw, and I’m not all that interested.

Running Backs: If the Eagles want to do the sensible thing, they will turn Jay Ajayi loose a little bit in the playoffs. However, all indications are that we will see the same three running back mess that we saw for much of the second half of the season. That adds risk to everyone in this backfield, as we don’t have much of a clue as to how snaps will shake out among Ajayi, LeGarrette Blount, and Corey Clement. If you want to look at it with a glass half full approach, Ajayi did get 14 of the team’s 21 carries in Week 16. Don’t put much stock into the Week 17 numbers, as the Eagles pulled their starters early. Ajayi is my pick from this group if forced to choose one guy, but the floor is uncomfortably low. This is a decent matchup, and it wouldn’t surprise me to see the Eagles take a run-heavy approach. Perhaps both Ajayi and Blount can get 15 touches in this one, but it all depends on how the game flow goes.

Pass Catchers: Volume is a concern here, especially with Foles under center. Zach Ertz did catch nine balls on 14 targets against the Raiders in Week 16, so it is clear that he will still be treated as a top target in this offense. Most DFS players that are spending up at tight end will flock to Gronkowski, so the potential low owned upside with Ertz is appealing. There certainly is plenty of risk, though. Perhaps my favorite GPP play from this team is Alshon Jeffery, who is now available at a bargain basement price for his talent level. I like his matchup against Atlanta’s secondary, and it would not surprise me to see him make a big play in this game. Nelson Agholor is also capable of a big play, but he is extremely risky with Foles at quarterback. I don’t trust their ability to connect with any sort of consistency, but the numbers haven’t been all that bad for him since Foles took over.

The Takeaway: The Eagles will have their hands full in this game, as they will be without their starting quarterback and have to face a playoff tested team. Some of the skill players are reasonably priced, so we do have to give them some attention on a short slate. Jay Ajayi is the strongest play out of the running back group, while you could consider Zach Ertz and Alshon Jeffery in the passing game. Both will carry low ownership given the quarterback situation. Still, this is not the best team to target in the divisional round.

Tennessee Titans New England Patriots
Vegas Odds Spread Total Proj.Pts Vegas Odds Spread Total Proj.Pts
13 47 17 -13 47 30
Tm Stats PPG Scoring Pass Rush Tm Stats PPG Scoring Pass Rush
Offense 0.0 0 0 0 Offense 0.0 0 0 0
Opp. Defense 18.5 5 32 20 Opp. Defense 22.2 18 27 4
Opp. Def vs. Pos QB RB WR TE Opp. Def vs. Pos QB RB WR TE
New England Patriots 27 17 30 9 Tennessee Titans 23 9 23 22
Rec. Stats Targets Receptions TDs Yards Rec. Stats Targets Receptions TDs Yards
Matthews 87 53 4 803 Cooks 103 60 6 1,003
Davis 70 38 0 410 Hogan 59 34 5 439
Decker 82 53 2 566 Amendola 79 57 2 616
Walker 114 77 3 862 Gronkowski 105 69 8 1,083

Notable injuries and suspensions: DeMarco Murray (TEN RB) – Out (Knee) / Rex Burkhead (NE RB) – Questionable (Knee) / James White (NE RB) – Questionable (Ankle)

TEN Matchup Rating: 3.5
NE Matchup Rating: 8.0

Tennessee Titans

Quarterback: Marcus Mariota was better than expected last week against the Chiefs, and there is no doubt that the volume will be there in the divisional round. The Titans are massive two touchdown underdogs against the Patriots, and I can’t remember the last time I have seen a two touchdown spread in a second round playoff game. Mariota provides some upside with his legs, and while the passing production is a wild card, the volume should help make up for it. There is some risk involved, but Mariota is very much a live tournament selection this week. You could maybe even make a case for him in cash games if you need to go cheap at QB. I made a short-sighted judgment in writing him off so quickly a week ago.

Running Backs: All signs seem to be pointing to DeMarco Murray missing another game here, but I expect Derrick Henry to continue to be the lead back regardless of Murray’s status. After a sub-par showing in a feature role against the Jaguars in Week 17, Henry absolutely exploded against the Chiefs in the Wild Card round, showing off the potential that he had often shown flashes of. It is absurd that Mike Mularkey kept riding DeMarco Murray as long as he did. Henry rushed 23 times for 156 yards and a score against the Chiefs, good for a solid 6.8 yards per carry. Game flow is a massive concern in this one, though. Henry is not a noted pass catching running back, and the Titans might very well have to abandon the run early. I can’t endorse him in cash games here, but the tournament potential is there if the game happens to stay close.

Pass Catchers: Again, volume is the main appeal here. Eric Decker was a chalk play last week, especially on DraftKings. After being quiet for much of the game, he salvaged some fantasy value with a big touchdown late. Rishard Matthews and Delanie Walker are also on the radar here. The Patriots have been hit or miss against the pass this year, and they were strongest in the middle of the season. While I can’t call any of their receiving options slam dunks, Walker is particularly appealing as a mid-range tight end play, and Matthews and Decker are two of the better options if you are looking for an affordable wide receiver. This is largely assuming that the game goes according to the Vegas odds, which would require the Titans to throw the ball a lot in the second half.

The Takeaway: Can the Titans keep this game close? That’s the big question. If they get blown out, it’s hard to make a strong case for Derrick Henry, despite his monster performance a week ago. The dual threat ability of Marcus Mariota gives him a nice floor, and he is viable in all formats with heavy passing volume also likely in the works. Decker, Walker, and Matthews are in play as reasonably-priced pass catchers, too.

New England Patriots

Quarterback: The Patriots carry the highest implied team total on the slate, bringing with them a healthy projection of 31 points. Tom Brady was relatively underwhelming down the stretch run of the season — by Tom Brady standards — but he always seems to be able to turn on the jets in the postseason. This is not an imposing matchup, and there is a reason why the Patriots are such large favorites in this game. Even if the Patriots are able to sit on a big lead late in this game, that will likely be because Brady has already done a lot of damage. Alex Smith was a popular fantasy choice against these Titans last week, and the same will go for Brady this week. If you have the salary to spend up at quarterback, Brady is certainly the top play at the position. However, I don’t think it’s an absolute necessity to play him.

Running Backs: It will be interested to see how this position plays out in New England’s first playoff game. Dion Lewis carried the load during the stretch run as the Patriots locked down the #1 seed, as other running backs Rex Burkhead and James White were dealing with injuries. Burkhead still seems questionable at best for this game, while White looks to be on track to be active. While there will likely be more bodies available for this team, it should still be Lewis’ backfield to man for the most part. He is a very strong mid-range running back play, and he should be a lock for any goal line work if Burkhead is out again. Keep an eye on this situation as we get closer to the weekend.

FRIDAY UPDATE – We still don’t have much clarity on Burkhead or White. Both are listed as questionable. Lewis is still likely to get a large majority of the work in any case.

Pass Catchers: Which Brandin Cooks will show up this week? You never seem to know what to expect with him, but the matchup is pretty golden. Tennessee doesn’t have anyone in the secondary capable of keeping up with him. Cooks is one of my favorite GPP wide receivers on this slate. Rob Gronkowski is obviously the top overall play at tight end, but it’s hard to squeeze him into lineups unless you are punting some other positions. I want to trust Chris Hogan as a fantasy option, but he is very difficult to trust after his long layoff in the second half. Cooks is my preferred option from this group, especially if his ownership is depressed to some degree.

The Takeaway: The Patriots should obviously be able to put up points in this game, so don’t hesitate to pick a few players from this group. Tom Brady and Rob Gronkowski are top plays at their positions, though it is tough to squeeze them into lineups. Dion Lewis and Brandin Cooks are slightly more affordable and also bring some upside to the table. It’s hard to endorse any of the secondary receivers, especially since we don’t know what to expect out of Chris Hogan.

Jacksonville Jaguars Pittsburgh Steelers
Vegas Odds Spread Total Proj.Pts Vegas Odds Spread Total Proj.Pts
7.5 41 16.75 -7.5 41 24.25
Tm Stats PPG Scoring Pass Rush Tm Stats PPG Scoring Pass Rush
Offense 0.0 0 0 0 Offense 0.0 0 0 0
Opp. Defense 19.3 7 5 10 Opp. Defense 15.9 2 1 22
Opp. Def vs. Pos QB RB WR TE Opp. Def vs. Pos QB RB WR TE
Pittsburgh Steelers 7 16 9 2 Jacksonville Jaguars 1 13 1 6
Rec. Stats Targets Receptions TDs Yards Rec. Stats Targets Receptions TDs Yards
Lee 97 56 3 702 Brown 162 101 9 1,533
Westbrook 50 31 1 378 Smith-Schuster 69 49 6 774
Cole 76 38 3 715 Bryant 77 44 3 538
Lewis 48 25 5 322 James 62 41 3 363

Notable injuries and suspensions: Antonio Brown (PIT WR) – Questionable (Calf)

JAX Matchup Rating: 4.0
PIT Matchup Rating: 5.0

Jacksonville Jaguars

Quarterback: Blake Bortles reverted to bad Blake Bortles last week, and the pressure of the playoffs might have gotten to him. He actually rushed for more yards than he threw for (88 to 87), and he looked downright awful throwing the ball. This will be a tough environment for a playoff game, and Bortles is the only quarterback that I am completely crossing off the list this week. There are better options at all price points.

Running Backs: If Jacksonville can keep this game close, we can certainly expect a heavy workload for Leonard Fournette. The Bills held him in check last week, but if you are looking for a silver lining, Fournette tore up this Pittsburgh defense for 181 rushing yards and a pair of scores back in Week 5. He will be much lower owned here than he was against the Bills, and it all comes down to game flow. He is not heavily involved in the passing game, so a negative game script could present a real problem. For that reason, Fournette makes more sense in tournaments than in cash games, as the risk is very tangible here.

Pass Catchers: Well, the numbers certainly weren’t there last week, as Blake Bortles only completed 12 passes in the Wild Card win over Buffalo. He also completed just eight passes in the first meeting between these two teams. With both Marqise Lee and Allen Hurns healthy now, there isn’t much to get excited about. The whole group features nothing more than massive risk dart throws.

The Takeaway: There isn’t a whole lot to get excited about here, outside of rostering Leonard Fournette in tournaments on the hopes that the game flow goes like it did the first time these teams met (I wouldn’t count on that). Blake Bortles was alarmingly bad last week and now has to go on the road, so this passing game doesn’t carry a lot of appeal. Pittsburgh’s defense is the most logical cash game play on the board.

Pittsburgh Steelers

Quarterback: Yes, Ben Roethlisberger was much better in the second half of the season. Yes, Antonio Brown is back this week. Despite these two facts, I simply can’t endorse playing a quarterback against the stingy Jacksonville secondary. When these teams met back in Week 5, the Steelers got waxed (at home) and Roethlisberger threw no touchdowns and five interceptions. There’s always tournament appeal for good playoff quarterbacks, especially when they are slinging it at home, but this doesn’t seem like the time to start picking on the best pass defense in the NFL.

Running Backs: Obviously, if the Steelers aren’t going to be able to throw easily on the Jaguars, they should focus on the run game. They went away from this far too early in the first meeting between these teams, which led to a silly 55/20 pass/run ratio. Expect them to stick with the ground game more often in the rematch, which obviously enhances the upside for Le’Veon Bell. The problem is that the Jacksonville rush defense was MUCH improved late in the season, though the Bills gashed them for 130 yards on 32 carries last week. I expect the Steelers to pound the run and make up for their mistakes from the first meeting, especially since Pittsburgh is an eight point home favorite. Bell is the safest running back on the board in the divisional round.

Pass Catchers: Antonio Brown is the top wide receiver in the game right now. JuJu Smith-Schuster has been a revelation this year. Martavis Bryant is always capable of a big play. That said, I am not trusting this group against the Jaguars. As I wrote above, I don’t expect the same type of passing volume as we saw back in Week 5. You will see some people referencing Brown having a good line against Jacksonville in that previous meeting, but keep in mind that Roethlisberger threw the ball FIFTY-FIVE times in that game. Don’t expect anywhere near that kind of volume again. It would surprise me if he eclipses half of that. I will take my chances and fade this group. Jacksonville’s corners are legit.

FRIDAY UPDATEAntonio Brown is questionable with his calf injury and has also been dealing with an illness. These are even more reasons to avoid him.

The Takeaway: I will be underweight on everyone not named Le’Veon Bell from this team. Pittsburgh should operate with a much more sensible game plan in the second meeting between these two teams this year. The passing game certainly has upside, but the risk is too great for me given their current prices. If you want to get frisky, Jacksonville’s defense is not a crazy option in DFS this week.

New Orleans Saints Minnesota Vikings
Vegas Odds Spread Total Proj.Pts Vegas Odds Spread Total Proj.Pts
4 45.5 20.75 -4 45.5 24.75
Tm Stats PPG Scoring Pass Rush Tm Stats PPG Scoring Pass Rush
Offense 0.0 0 0 0 Offense 0.0 0 0 0
Opp. Defense 15.8 1 2 2 Opp. Defense 20.7 10 21 16
Opp. Def vs. Pos QB RB WR TE Opp. Def vs. Pos QB RB WR TE
Minnesota Vikings 3 1 11 1 New Orleans Saints 16 15 14 7
Rec. Stats Targets Receptions TDs Yards Rec. Stats Targets Receptions TDs Yards
Thomas 150 106 5 1,282 Thielen 136 85 4 1,216
Ginn 70 54 5 869 Diggs 89 58 7 784
Coleman 41 27 3 408 Treadwell 32 17 0 184
Hill 24 18 2 166 Rudolph 78 56 8 529

Notable injuries and suspensions: Brandon Coleman (NO WR) – Out (Neck)

NO Matchup Rating: 5.0
MIN Matchup Rating: 5.5

New Orleans Saints

Quarterback: Drew Brees rediscovered his upside with a very encouraging performance in the playoff opener, as he threw for well over 300 yards and a pair of scores against the Panthers. The matchup is much more imposing this week, as the Saints travel on the road to take on a solid Minnesota defense. The Vikings ranked inside the top five in the regular season in DVOA against both the run and the pass. Brees is certainly capable of a big game, but I prefer Tom Brady if I am spending up at the quarterback position. Minnesota doesn’t quite have the imposing pass defense that Jacksonville does, but they are still pretty darn good.

Running Backs: Both New Orleans running backs flopped last week, as the Panthers held Alvin Kamara and Mark Ingram to a total of 19 carries for 45 yards. Kamara did manage to scrape out a touchdown, but the bloom is falling off the rose a little bit with this running game. In a tough matchup, this doesn’t feel like the best place to look. It is worth noting that the Saints combined for just 60 rushing yards as a team when these teams met at the beginning of the season. If I am looking for upside, though, Kamara brings that to the table a little more than Ingram. If choosing between the two, Kamara is the path I would take.

Pass Catchers: Xavier Rhodes did not shadow Michael Thomas in the season opener between these teams, but Minnesota’s secondary still held him in check. I wouldn’t be surprised to see Rhodes shadow Thomas this time around, though. That would give more appeal to a player like Ted Ginn, though his floor is legitimately zero in a tough matchup. Willie Snead could see a few more snaps with Brandon Coleman out due to a neck injury, but the tough matchup limits the overall appeal here.

The Takeaway: This is a tough matchup for the Saints in a rematch of the season opener, a game where the Saints scored just 19 points. With Brees, Kamara, Ingram, and Thomas all carrying fairly hefty price tags, it’s difficult to make a strong endorsement for them. Ted Ginn and Willie Snead are live tournament selections, but the floor is very low for both. Tread carefully here, and don’t discount the idea of using Minnesota’s defense.

Minnesota Vikings

Quarterback: Case Keenum is the perfect quarterback for this Vikings offense. He is capable of pushing the ball downfield when he needs to, yet he is capable of dialing it back when the team’s defense takes over a football game. There is no ego here. Keenum has been defying expectations all year long, and it wouldn’t surprise me to see him do it again in the playoffs. The issue is that New Orleans is generally stronger against the pass. Their defense ranked fifth in the NFL in DVOA against the pass this year. Keenum ranks in the middle of the QB pack for me on this four game slate.

Running Backs: Minnesota should be able to attack the Saints on the ground, which is where their defense is weakest. They allowed 112 rushing yards per game, 4.4 yards per carry, and 11 rushing touchdowns this year. The big question that we need to answer is which one of the running backs will do the damage. Remember, in the Week 1 meeting between these teams, Dalvin Cook was still around to carry the load. The snap count seems to be all over the place, with McKinnon grabbing about 60% one week and Murray taking 60% another week. Game flow doesn’t seem to make a large difference, either. McKinnon is more of a big play, GPP threat, while I would give Murray a slight lean in cash games. This is largely an exercise in splitting hairs though; both guys are viable options.

Pass Catchers: Standout rookie Marshon Lattimore will likely see a lot of Stefon Diggs in this game, which gives me more interest in Adam Thielen in the slot. Thielen tallied nine grabs for 157 yards in the Week 1 matchup, though Diggs did find the end zone twice. I give a lean to Thielen in this playoff meeting. Kyle Rudolph is also worth a look if you need an affordable tight end play, but the Saints were generally solid against tight ends for much of the season. I prefer the running game in a general sense.

The Takeaway: The Saints are weaker against the run than the pass, so Minnesota’s running backs are my preferred DFS options. It’s often tough to decide between Jerick McKinnon and Latavius Murray, and I will have a few shares of both. If deciding between the two, McKinnon’s big play upside tends to suck me in more often. Adam Thielen is my favorite target if you are looking for a play from the passing game. It will be interesting to see how Case Keenum performs in the playoffs, but he is a secondary play at best.


About the Author

  • Justin Van Zuiden (stlcardinals84)

  • Justin Van Zuiden (fantasy alias STLCardinals84) is a leading RG contributor for NFL, NBA, MLB, CFB and golf. One of the game’s best, he is currently in the Top 10 in the 2015/16 Tournament Player of the Year race and has six live final appearances to his name, as well as a second place finish in the 2015 FantasyAces College Football Championship..

    STLCardinals84

Comments

  • irish62

    Thanks for taking the time to do this all season!

  • Ukermania

    Thanks for this..definite read every week!

  • djjoeyg

    Thanks for the write up!

  • NEPatsfan5385

    Last yeat the pats where 16.5 point favorite in divisional round

  • petergriff15

    Thank You Justin ,well done all year

  • yountingly

    • 516

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    don’t be so hard on yourself for Mariotta. If he doesn’t luck box that pass to himself, he disappoints.

  • lastplace

    Murray has been getting more of the goal line work than McKinnon in the Vikes last few reg season games.

  • stlcardinals84

    Leading RG Expert & Contributor

    • 47

      RG Overall Ranking

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      RG Tiered Ranking

    • x2

      2013 FanDuel WFBC Finalist

    • 2015 FACFC Finalist

    @lastplace said...

    Murray has been getting more of the goal line work than McKinnon in the Vikes last few reg season games.

    Yeah, Murray is definitely the better bet for goal line carries, and they have gotten a lot of them.

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