STLCards' NFL Field Stretcher: Divisional Round
Justin Van Zuiden, also known as STLCardinals84, has proven time and time again that he’s one of the best tournament players in the DFS industry. Join him each week as he gives you a glimpse into the mind of a GPP maestro.
Welcome back to the Postseason edition of the NFL Field Stretcher! After a relatively pedestrian Wild Card round with a lot of low scoring contests, we should see a LOT more offense this week with teams like the Chiefs, Patriots, Saints, and Rams back in the mix. This should be a fun slate, and I’ll dive right in with the same approach that I utilized a week ago. I will analyze a handful of players that I will likely be “overweight” on compared to our projected ownership, and I will analyze a handful of players that I will likely be “underweight” on compared to our projected ownership. Of course, I will add some analysis along the way. I decided to take this approach because game theory becomes more important the smaller the slate gets, and I feel like this will add the most value to your playoff DFS experience when it comes to GPP play.
I will also note that the “primary” slates are different among the sites for the playoffs. FanDuel is prioritizing the “one day, two game” slates, while DraftKings is prioritizing the “two day, four game” slates. For that reason, we only have full weekend projected ownership for DK. The current FD projected ownership only reflects the Saturday games. Therefore, my projected ownership below will only reflect the DK figures. However, I am also splitting the players by day and noting them as SAT or SUN plays in order to help you out if you are playing the single day slates on FD or any site.
Let’s get down to business!
Players I Will Be Overweight On
Ezekiel Elliott (SAT) (37% pOWN DK) – I’ll say this twice throughout this article. Give me Elliott over Gurley this week. Elliott is such a huge part of the Dallas offense that they simply can’t win without him giving the Cowboys some production. He’s heavily involved in the passing game and will likely see his usual 20+ carries as the Cowboys look to keep the ball away from the explosive Rams. Meanwhile, the Rams have proven that they can win without Todd Gurley, and we will likely see some rust from him after three weeks off and two poor games prior to his injury. The projected ownership is similar on both players, and I’ll side with Elliott at least eight times out of ten in this matchup. Even if Dallas is getting blown out, Elliott still has a floor with his elevated pass catching ability this year. It’s Elliott > Gurley for me.
Patrick Mahomes, Tyreek Hill, and Travis Kelce (SAT) (18% / 30% / 30% pOWN DK) – Simply put, you need some exposure to the Chiefs offense on this slate. They have an implied team total of 31 points, and they have elite talent at QB, WR, and TE. Although the Colts defense is much improved over the early part of the year, this challenge is on a different level. Hill showed his game-breaking potential again in the Week 17 win over the Raiders and has elite GPP upside. Travis Kelce also has the potential to be a slate-breaking option on this short slate. He ranked EIGHTH in the league in targets this year, and that’s not eighth among tight ends. That’s eighth in the league, period — ahead of the likes of Michael Thomas and Keenan Allen. In addition, the Chiefs draw a matchup against a Colts squad that ranked a meager 29th in the league in DVOA against tight ends this year. There’s 9/125/2 potential here, and that would make Kelce a pre-requisite in order to compete in GPPs on this slate. If they are doing well, Mahomes is also doing well, and I’m surprised his pOWN% is as low as it is. However you slice it, Kansas City exposure is a necessity with their 31 point implied team total.
Cowboys Defense (SAT) (12% pOWN DK) – There is no doubt that the Rams have an explosive offense. However, we saw some cracks in that explosiveness over the final month of the regular season. Jared Goff had a few down games. Todd Gurley got injured. This isn’t the same juggernaut that we saw in the first half of the year. Nothing is guaranteed against a good Dallas defense that ranked ninth in overall DVOA over the course of the season. In terms of talent, the Dallas defense would rank at the top of this slate. In terms of matchup, they aren’t there. Weighing both sides of that coin is tough, but I’ll settle on some exposure at relatively low ownership in GPP formats.
Chiefs/Colts GPP Stacks (SAT) – If this game stays competitive, we could see a wide open throttle from both the Colts and Chiefs. We know the Colts love to sling the ball the moment they fall behind, and the Chiefs have elite weapons at every position. As I wrote earlier, we should see a lot more offense this weekend than we did in the wild card round, but this game is particularly intriguing with the skill players each team has offensively. Luck/Hilton/Hill/Kelce could be a dynamic stack if you find the right value around them, and the key will be finding value at the running back position. If you are playing the full weekend slate, keep reading for a couple players that I like for that purpose!
Philip Rivers (SUN) (10% pOWN DK) – I think it’s possible for the Chargers to pull the upset in this game, and you will see that as a theme throughout my Sunday picks. The Patriots do have an occasionally weak underbelly on defense, and the Chargers could start to chuck in this game if they fall behind. This is likely Rivers’ last chance to make a deep playoff run, and while his numbers have been down a bit of late, I will attribute a good chunk of that to some difficult matchups. He will likely be the lowest-owned quarterback on the Sunday slate behind all of Brady, Foles, and Brees. There’s upside here, especially if you pair him with a pass catching RB like Ekeler (see the next section) or a top WR like Allen. This makes a lot of sense in GPPs.
Austin Ekeler (SUN) (8% pOWN DK) – Even though Melvin Gordon returned to last week’s Wild Card game against the Ravens, he was largely ineffective, rushing for just 40 yards on 17 carries in the Chargers’ upset win. Austin Ekeler really any better than Gordon, but it’s worth noting that Ekeler touched the ball 15 times and played on more offensive snaps than Gordon. This should be a more wide open game against a Patriots defense that often struggles in the short to intermediate passing game. I expect Ekeler to be a sneaky DFS option this weekend. He’s a great option at low projected ownership and is a fine value on either the full weekend or Sunday-only slates.
Darren Sproles (SUN) (5% pOWN DK) – If you can’t tell, I like taking the value route at running back on Sunday. It has come out of seemingly nowhere, but Darren Sproles is slowly becoming the lead back in this three-man committee in Philadelphia. Josh Adams has disappeared, and Wendell Smallwood has been largely ineffective. Now, it’s not that Sproles has been any better, but it’s no surprise that he couldn’t find much sledding against a difficult Bears defense a week ago. The good news is that he dominated the snaps and logged 15 total touches in that game, and his skill-set should play much better in a more open game against the Saints… his former team. Revenge narrative for the win!
Alshon Jeffery (SUN) (18% pOWN DK) – Nick Foles has constantly talked about how he feels a connection with Alshon Jeffery, and it shows in the results. Three of Jeffery’s last four games have been very solid, with lines of 6/82, 5/59/1, and 8/160. A few of those have come against good teams in the Rams and Bears, and this should be a wide open, high scoring game between the Eagles and Saints. The DFS community in general doesn’t seem to be as high on Jeffery, so I also like the combination of upside and relatively low ownership. I prefer him over Zach Ertz in this passing game, largely because there are a lot of other solid tight ends on the slate (Kelce, Ebron, and Gronkowski). Hopefully Jeffery can pay off with a good chunk of catches and a touchdown this weekend.
Players I Will Be Underweight On
Todd Gurley (SAT) (43% pOWN DK) – Well, as I promised above, here we are. I’ll say this twice throughout this article. Give me Elliott over Gurley this week. Elliott is such a huge part of the Dallas offense that they simply can’t win without him giving the Cowboys some production. He’s heavily involved in the passing game and will likely see his usual 20+ carries as the Cowboys look to keep the ball away from the explosive Rams. Meanwhile, the Rams have proven that they can win without Todd Gurley, and we will likely see some rust from him after three weeks off and two poor games prior to his injury. The projected ownership is similar on both players, and I’ll side with Elliott at least eight times out of ten in this matchup. Even if Dallas is getting blown out, Elliott still has a floor with his elevated pass catching ability this year. It’s Elliott > Gurley for me.
Marlon Mack (SAT) (25% pOWN DK) – The projected ownership that we have for Mack is simply far too high for me to consider him in tournaments this weekend. I think the Colts will fall behind in this game, and we know they are a team that doesn’t mind throwing when they fall behind or when they are in the red zone. They got out to a three touchdown lead at halftime in the Wild Card game against the Texans and were able to give the ball to Mack 24 times. This probably won’t happen again. I’d rather grab Luck, Hilton, and Ebron from the Colts in this game — even though the Chiefs have weak metrics against the run this year. This is more about projected ownership and likely game flow more than anything.
Brandin Cooks (SAT) (20% pOWN DK) – It’s probably evident from the other things I have written, but I am very nervous about the Rams’ offense in this game. The Dallas defense does a good job at keeping plays in front of them and limiting chunk plays by the opposition. My preferred targets in the Los Angeles passing game will be Woods and Reynolds. Even though Cooks is the big play guy that we generally look to target in GPP formats, he had just five touchdowns all year and averaged only 48 receiving yards per game over the final five regular season games. I’ll be underweight on him compared to the field.
Chiefs Defense (SAT) (18% pOWN DK) – The Chiefs are projected to be the highest owned defense of the week, and this is just a game theory play. I expect a potential shootout in this IND/KC contest, and the Chiefs certainly aren’t the most talented defense on the board. The top scoring defense on this slate is likely going to be the one that gets a fluky defensive touchdown, and I’ll take my chances with some of the lower-owned options.
Tom Brady (SUN) (10% pOWN DK) – We have seen the Patriots utilize more of a run-heavy approach this year, given the inconsistency that they have had throwing the ball. That has largely been a result of injuries (GronkowskI), off field problems (the now-released Gordon), and aging (Brady). Now that all their running backs are healthy, Bill Belichick hasn’t been shy about utilizing them more and cutting down on the passing attempts. This is a tough matchup against a very underrated Chargers defense. I would much rather target Rivers on the other side of this game because of game flow, or either quarterback in the PHI/NO game if you are playing the Sunday only slate. If you are playing the full weekend slate that also includes Mahomes and Luck, it feels like a no brainer. Playoff Tom Brady could always show up, but he doesn’t have the same upside that he did five years ago with a prime Rob Gronkowski and all his other weapons back then.
Melvin Gordon (SUN) (20% pOWN DK) – If you refer to the “overweight” section above and see that I am overweight on Austin Ekeler, then it should be no surprise that I am underweight on Melvin Gordon. He simply isn’t healthy. He has not topped 100 rushing yards in a game since November 4th, and he’s going to be in a time share with Ekeler at the very best case scenario. Gordon will be a popular pick on this slate, and specifically with the Sunday games. I prefer the value at the position (on Sunday) and Ezekiel Elliott (on Saturday), so there’s no format in which I will prioritize Gordon here.
Rob Gronkowski (SUN) (18% pOWN DK) – This simply isn’t the same player anymore. We all like to cling onto old thoughts, but Travis Kelce is the new Rob Gronkowski — a slate-breaking option at the tight end position. I would argue that Gronkowski has only had two (maybe three) games this year where he has exceeded value for his relative DFS price point. I can’t make an argument for him over Kelce and Ebron on the full weekend slate, and I’d probably side with a punt on the Sunday slate. I won’t fade Gronk entirely on the Sunday only slate, but I will do so on the full weekend slate.
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