Thursday, January 21, 2016

Conference Championship Round GPP Breakdown: AFC

Some quick notes before diving into this week's slate:

  • DraftKings is still offering head-to-heads and 50-50s this week. If you were still playing cash games the last two weeks, you likely found yourself in plenty of scenarios where three or less players decided the outcome of your contest due to roster overlap between you and your opponents. With two less games to choose players from this week, the overlap will be amplified. Any edge you had over your opponents no longer exists due to the razor thin player pool. More so than with the wildcard and divisional rounds, this is a week for GPPs only -- and even then you should be playing mostly for fun.
  • To that end, DraftKings is running some lucrative large field tournaments -- the $1 Million Conference Championship ($20 entry, 57K person field) and $1.25 Million Play Action ($3 entry, 479K person field) both pay $100,000 to the winner. Play what your bankroll allows, but if you were the type of player to enter two $20 GPPs per week during the regular season, I would suggest taking that $40 and spreading it out over 20 or so entries into smaller tournaments. To make a deep run this week, your margin for error is literally zero. If you don't get every single player who has a big game into your lineup, you'll be buried in the standings. Unless you get incredibly lucky, it's going to take a few variations to hit the right combination of players.
  • It's the last week of anything resembling NFL DFS until preseason starts up more than six months from now. Enjoy the last taste, but it's worth repeating -- even the best player's edge is minimal to non-existent on this slate. Don't give back the winnings you worked so hard to pile up this season just because this is the last action you'll see for awhile. 
Huge thanks to all the readers and Footballguys subscribers for making work a pleasure this year, and good luck on Sunday!

Patriots

Denver ranked inside the top-8 in all of the pertinent pass defense metrics -- DVOA (1st), opponent completion percentage (8th), passing yards per game (2nd), passing touchdown percentage (8th), yards per pass attempt (1st), and sack percentage (1st). As a result, Vegas has shown the Broncos defense respect by setting New England's implied team total at 23.5 points. It's a number I envision Tom Brady ($7,400) and company cruising past fairly easily. The Patriots scored at least 27 points in every one of Julian Edelman's nine starts this season, and Brady finished with less than 23 fantasy points in only one of those nine games. New England had the sixth highest passing play percentage in the league, and we saw them slant heavily towards the pass last week against Kansas City (only seven rushing attempts by running backs). I'd expect the Patriots to once again play to their strengths against a Denver rush defense that let up a league-low 3.3 yards per attempt this season. It should also help Brady's cause that Broncos stud cornerback Chris Harris played with one arm the whole game against the Steelers last week.

With New England's offense in pass-only mode against the Chiefs, James White ($4,600) saw 72% of the running back snaps -- substantially higher than the 35%-40% he had been playing recently. It didn't result in much production (6.4 fantasy points), but on the chance White sees similar field time against Denver, I'll have him in about 30% of my lineups. For what it's worth, the Broncos gave up the eighth-most receptions and sixth-most receiving touchdowns to opposing running backs this season. Pricing is tight enough that fitting both Jonathan Stewart and David Johnson into a lineup is difficult, so White won't exactly be a contrarian play, but he will certainly check in lower owned than the NFC backs and probably C.J. Anderson as well. Steven Jackson ($3,000) played on 29% of the snaps and had six carries for 16 yards last week, putting him under 2.8 yards per carry in all three of his appearances as a Patriot. I suppose Jackson has touchdown upside, but I'm not sure I can bring myself to roster him. Even if Peyton Manning self destructs and New England gets out to a big lead, I don't expect expect Bill Belichick to start running Jackson into a brick wall -- especially if Brady has the short passing game humming. Brandon Bolden ($2,600) will be under 2% owned, but justifiably so after seeing only 7% of the backfield snaps last week.

Julian Edelman ($7,500) is the highest-priced wide receiver on the slate and very likely to be the highest-owned after returning from a two-month layoff to drop 24.1 fantasy points on the Chiefs. Nothing we've seen all season suggests Edelman won't once again act as Brady's primary chain mover on short and intermediate routes, which puts the chances he finishes with less than 15 fantasy points extremely low (it happened once in the eight games Edelman finished this year). Brandon LaFell ($3,300) is awful, but he profiles as a worthy contrarian play this week. He was out there on 90% of the snaps vs. Kansas City and was targeted a respectable five times. Denver is going to have to focus their coverage on Edelman and Rob Gronkowski, which should leave LaFell in soft spots where Brady can find him. Keshawn Martin ($2,600) hooked up with Brady for a 42 yard gain last week, but was in on only 17% of the wide receiver snaps. I won't argue against using him (or anyone really) to construct a unique roster, but I'd rather take my chances with someone like LaFell, who will at least be on the field. Danny Amendola ($4,400) will see a lot of Harris' coverage in the slot. If Harris' shoulder injury hampers him as much as it did last week, Amendola at least stands a chance. But like LaFell, he's an uninspiring contrarian option whose best selling point is that he'll be on the field.

Rob Gronkowski ($7,600) is the biggest fantasy difference maker on the slate and is priced accordingly at $100 more than Edelman. When New England and Denver met in Week 12, Gronk caught six passes for 88 yards and a touchdown. Dating back to 2011, he has 40 catches for 516 yards and six touchdowns in six games against the Broncos. With Greg Olsen only $500 less, there's no question I'll have more exposure to Gronkowski and his GPP-winning ceiling than Olsen (who I still like quite a bit) this week.

The Patriots Defense ($3,100) provides a bit of much needed cap relief and has upside in this matchup against Peyton Manning. Manning wasn't terrible last week against the Steelers, but he didn't do anything to prove the guy who threw 17 interceptions through the season's first nine games isn't still lurking behind that orange #18 jersey.

Broncos

Speaking of Peyton Manning ($5,500), there are contrarian plays, and then there are just bad plays. Manning -- who completed only 56.8% of his passes against a notoriously leaky Pittsburgh pass defense last week -- qualifies as the latter. If he couldn't turn in a serviceable day at home against the Steelers, I have no faith he can do so against a Patriots team that should be able to pressure him (New England's 2.9 sacks per game trailed only Denver's 3.2 for the league lead). I also can't imagine Gary Kubiak's game plan is to beat New England through the air. 35+ pass attempts for Manning would probably mean Kubiak's (and Broncos fans) worst nightmare has come true.

Even in a down game for Manning, both Demaryius Thomas ($7,000) and Emmanuel Sanders ($6,300) were able to reach low double digit fantasy points against the Steelers. Neither receiver faces a particularly exploitable cornerback matchup, but they both qualify as high-floor options who have demonstrated 30 point ceilings. There aren't many players you can say that about on this week's slate, making both receivers viable options. It's worth noting when these teams met in Week 12 (with Brock Osweiler at quarterback) Thomas was limited to one catch for 36 yards, while Sanders posted a 6-113-0 line. Pro Football Focus grades New England's Leonard Johnson as the worst cornerback on this week's slate, but there's no mismatch we can exploit as a result. Jordan Norwood ($2,100) and Andre Caldwell ($2,000) split Denver's slot snaps pretty evenly, effectively cancelling each other out.

C.J. Anderson's ($4,400) price is up $700 from last week after he turned 17 touches into 16.3 fantasy points against a tough Steelers run defense. Anderson has run for less than 4.8 yards per carry in a game just once since Week 8, and has five games with over six yards per carry over that span. It's also encouraging his best game of the season came against New England in Week 12 (15-113-2 plus another 4-40 receiving). While Anderson is the far superior option to Ronnie Hillman ($3,900), the Broncos 50-50 backfield timeshare is here to stay, which caps the upside of both backs against New England's top 10 rush defense (DVOA). Ultimately, it will be difficult to avoid rostering Anderson due to his price and recent production, but Hillman makes for an interesting contrarian play as the cheapest source of 15 touches on the slate. I also don't hate the idea of pairing both Denver running backs with the Broncos defense in a unique roster construction. We can't rule out Denver winning this game at home, and the only way that happens is if the Broncos keep the ball out of Brady's hands by controlling the clock with the run and playing great defense.

Playing Owen Daniels ($2,300) on a two-game slate when Rob Gronkowski and Greg Olsen are your other options is, um, not optimal. Daniels was on the field for 70% of the snaps last week -- making him the clear play over Vernon Davis ($2,200) and Virgil Green ($2,100) -- but it resulted in two catches for 10 yards against Pittsburgh. If you're really trying to talk yourself into Daniels, I guess you can make a case for New England struggling against tight ends in recent weeks. The Patriots allowed four tight end touchdowns in their last five games of the regular season to the combination of Zach Ertz, Delanie Walker, and Jordan Cameron -- and Travis Kelce probably would have had a touchdown against them last week if Alex Smith hadn't overthrown him in the end-zone.

The Broncos Defense ($3,300) is absolutely dominant and probably comes with a six point floor due to their league-leading sack rate. I just don't see how they can win you a GPP this week against a Patriots offense that has rolled in every game they were completely healthy. There's also a greater than zero chance Manning implodes and leaves them climbing an uphill battle against poor field position. I'll have some exposure to the Broncos, but like most people I'll be going heaviest on Carolina's defense in hopes they keep up their dominant play at home.

Check back on the blog Saturday for the NFC breakdown.


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