- I theorized last week, "If you want to have any shot at a deep run in tournaments, you’ll need to surround your core of chalk plays with at least two under-the-radar players (think 20% owned or less on such a short slate) and probably more depending on the size of the field." I was only partially right.
- Last week’s winning Millionaire Maker lineup included four players who were owned by less than 20% of the field. Nine out of the 10 top scoring rosters did indeed include at least two players under 20% owned.
- However, there was another path to a unique roster -- one that could be repeated this week. Travis Kelce was the only player under 20% owned in the lineup that finished in a seven-way tie for third place in the Millionaire Maker. Those seven entrants used Kelce in the flex next to Jordan Reed and passed up huge chunks of the field when both tight ends exploded for big games. Last week’s results are likely to make flexing a tight end more popular this week (especially with Rob Gronkowski, Greg Olsen, and Kelce on the slate), but foregoing a running back or wide receiver in the flex will never sit well with the majority of entrants. Rostering two tight ends is once again a viable strategy for differentiating your tournament lineups in the divisional round.
- It wasn’t just low-owned players, or unique roster construction that won all the money last week. You had to go down to 52nd place in the Millionaire Maker to find a lineup that didn’t include the highest-owned quarterback (Kirk Cousins - 31.8%), wide receiver (Antonio Brown - 66.2%), and tight end (Jordan Reed - 54%). Let this serve as a reminder that you don’t need to stray too far from the beaten path when building lineups this week -- especially now that we have four new teams full of well-rested, well-prepared players. You’ll want to build your core around the obvious plays on the home favorites this week and once again seek out a differentiator or two, whether it be in player selection or roster construction.
Running back is ugly enough that I was looking forward to using Charcandrick West ($5,500) in a bad matchup, but Spencer Ware ($4,500) returned to practice Thursday and would seem on track to play through his ankle injury. As long as Ware suits up, I won’t have much exposure to either Kansas City running back on the road in Foxborough, where the Chiefs are five point underdogs. It makes sense to have a few shares of Ware if you’re building multiple GPP lineups. He has 32 carries to West’s 21 over the last two games and there’s always a possibility he’ll fall forward for a few yards into the end zone.
Alex Smith ($5,400) simply doesn’t have the ceiling to win you a tournament, and that’s especially true this week with Kansas City projected by Vegas to score less than 19 points. Any upside he possessed is dinged by Maclin’s injury. I can’t envision Maclin being effective even if he plays, which could open the door for Albert Wilson ($3,800) as a GPP dart. Wilson would have been a more popular play this week if Alex Smith hadn’t overthrown him on what would have been a 58-yard touchdown against the Texans. With so many viable wide receiver options to choose from, I don’t see the need to roster Chris Conley ($3,000) unless Maclin sits.
The Chiefs Defense ($4,000) has scored less than eight fantasy points just once since Week 7, but there’s too many big home favorites on the slate to trust them in this spot.
Kansas City has a stout run defense and the Patriots will be trotting out 32 year old Steven Jackson ($3,300) at running back. Jackson is cheap and had 15 touches (including a touchdown) at Miami in Week 17, but unless he scores multiple touchdowns, he probably won’t reach double-digit fantasy points in this matchup. Maybe he’s worth a shot in about 10% of your lineups, on the chance New England blows Kansas City’s doors completely off and goes run-heavy in the second half. If the Patriots decide not to test the Chiefs run defense, I’d expect James White ($5,200) to play a major role in the short passing game. White scored between 14 and 31 fantasy points in each game from Weeks 13 to 16. Adding him to a Patriots stack is a nice way to squeeze a little extra juice out of Tom Brady if the New England offense has a big game.
Tom Brady ($7,400) is a very interesting tournament option this week. I expect Carson Palmer and Cam Newton to be heavily-owned, and the crowd might hesitate to use Brady after his terrible last two games of the regular season. But offensive tackle Sebastian Vollmer (who got hurt during the Patriots Week 16 loss) will be back, which is a huge plus for Brady’s chances of withstanding the Chiefs pass rush. Brady will also get Julian Edelman ($7,100) back for this game. Over the last two seasons, Brady’s fantasy points per game are 50% higher in the 23 games he’s played with Edelman than the nine games he’s played without him.
As for Edelman, I expect we won’t see his ownership percentage get too high due his price (WR2) and the uncertainty surrounding his injury. Personally, I’m not too concerned about either. Edelman has flashed a 25-30 point ceiling on several occasions this season, and he’s been practicing for over a month. The matchup against Kansas City’s cornerbacks is winnable enough to support a big game. As far as GPP flyers go, you can do worse than Brandon LaFell ($4,000). The weakness of Kansas City’s secondary has been on the perimeter most of the year, and that’s where LaFell lines up on about 80% of his routes. LaFell has been appallingly bad this season, but he’s at least a theoretical red zone threat on a team with the third-most red zone scoring attempts. Danny Amendola ($5,500) isn’t really on my radar, but he should be healthy and he’s had some good games with Edelman in the lineup this season. If the Patriots have the quick passing game humming, Amendola could see 6-8 targets, which would make him a fine contrarian option for your Brady stacks.
The Patriots Defense ($3,500) is right there with the Broncos as my preferred D/ST unit. New England trailed only Denver in sacks per game this season, while Chiefs quarterbacks were sacked on 9% of their offensive plays -- the third highest rate in the league. Alex Smith will be overmatched in Foxborough and the Patriots should roll to an easy win, which points to a strong day for their defense.
Michael Floyd ($5,100) has been a favorite play of mine for most of the season. His salary is still nowhere close to reflecting his expected production against a Green Bay team he torched for 111 yards in Week 16. It looks like Floyd will have to contend with cornerback Sam Shields who missed the last four games with a concussion, but Shields may not be 100% after such a long layoff, and no one’s confusing him with Josh Norman anyway. John Brown ($5,200) should enjoy favorable coverage from rookie Damarious Randall on the majority of his routes. According to Pro Football Focus, Randall has allowed the third-most fantasy points per route defended among the cornerbacks on this week’s slate. It’s been awhile since we’ve seen Brown’s 30 point ceiling, but he’s settled in as a high-floor option (11 games with at least double-digit fantasy points) who has the potential to go nuclear in any given week. I won’t have much Larry Fitzgerald ($6,500) since he’s comparatively expensive, Arizona’s other receivers possess higher ceilings, and he faces a difficult matchup in the slot with Casey Hayward. But I will be using Fitzgerald to cut the chalk in some spots based on high target volume and the possibility the bye week returns him to early season form.
The Cardinals Defense ($3,800) has as high a ceiling as exists for a D/ST, but I don’t plan on having much exposure with better options on the board and high potential for this game to turn into a shootout.
With Davante Adams likely out (addition by subtraction), Randall Cobb ($5,900) will line up on the outside more and see plenty of stud cornerback Patrick Peterson, but James Jones ($4,600) and Jared Abbrederis ($3,000) should help Rodgers’ cause. Jones saw a team-high 11 targets last week, which was consistent with his usage over the last four games of the regular season (team-leading 28% target market share). The combination of Jones’ guaranteed volume and big play ability (his 18 receptions of 20+ yards ranked 11th-best this season) makes him one of the best point per dollar values on the slate for the second consecutive week. Assuming Abbrederis takes Cobb’s place in the slot in three-receiver sets (he’s lined up there on 87% of his routes this year), he’ll enjoy coverage from Tyrann Mathieu replacement, Jerraud Powers. According to Pro Football Focus, Powers has allowed the second-most fantasy points per route defended among the cornerbacks on this week’s slate. You can do much worse for a minimum salary punt than the receiver seeing high percentage passes from Aaron Rodgers.
With Gronk, Olsen, Kelce and Heath Miller destined to tie up 95% of the tight end traffic, Richard Rodgers ($4,000) makes for an interesting contrarian play. When you adjust for strength of schedule, the Cardinals were one of the worst teams in football at defending the tight end. Over the last five weeks of the season, Arizona allowed over 35% more fantasy points per game to the position than the league average. With Adams out of the lineup, Rodgers could also be called upon for additional targets.
Running back is ugly behind David Johnson, so both Eddie Lacy ($4,400) and James Starks ($4,000) are worth a look. The duo combined for a 2.83x salary multiplier last week, which was actually pretty good considering the alternatives. It's tough to forecast much success for either Green Bay running back on the ground against Arizona's second-rated rush defense (DVOA). Either player would be best used in a unique roster construction along with Aaron Rodgers in hopes they can take a screen pass to the house (like Lacy did against the Cardinals in Week 16).
The Packers Defense ($3,400) doesn’t belong anywhere near your lineup this week.
Check back on Saturday for some analysis on Sunday’s games (Seahawks @ Panthers and Steelers @ Broncos).