FanDuel Daily Fantasy Football Helper: Conference Championships

On Sunday's two-game slate, who stands out as superior plays, and who could go under the radar?

We're down to the final multi-game slate of the NFL season that doesn't feature exhibition contests, so we better take advantage while we still can.

Of course, the slate on Sunday opens up with the Los Angeles Rams traveling to face the New Orleans Saints at 3:05 p.m. (EST), and concludes with the New England Patriots at the Kansas City Chiefs at 6:40 p.m.

Both games have similar over/unders and close spreads, so let's dig into the matchups and see who stands out on FanDuel.

Team Opponent Implied Total Spread O/U
New Orleans Saints Los Angeles Rams 30.0 -3.5 56.5
Los Angeles Rams @ New Orleans Saints 26.5 3.5 56.5
Kansas City Chiefs New England Patriots 29.5 -3.0 56.0
New England Patriots @ Kansas City Chiefs
26.5 3.0 56.0

Both games feature totals of at least 56.0 points and tight 3.0- or 3.5-point spreads, and both are rematches of regular season tilts. The Patriots held off the Chiefs 43-40 in Week 6 in Foxboro, and the Saints bested the Rams 45-35 at home in Week 9. As for digging back into those games, we can only do so much because key players for each team were either absent or are currently absent for the upcoming rematch (such as Kareem Hunt, Josh Gordon, Cooper Kupp, Ted Ginn Jr., Aqib Talib, Sheldon Rankins -- to name just a few).

So let's dig into recent trends and break down a lock (a safe, high-floor pick) and a sleeper (a possibly overlooked play).


Lock: Patrick Mahomes ($9,000) - Mahomes has been strong against top-half pass defenses at home this season (New England is 12th by numberFire's metrics), including 0.29 Passing Net Expected Points (NEP) per drop back this season, compared to the league average of 0.11. He's also had an above-average passing success rate (50.5% versus 47.6%) and 7.94 yards per attempt in such matchups. The Chiefs' rush defense (32nd) could help the Patriots control the ball enough to mitigate Mahomes a bit, but the Patriots are 25th in NEP per play allowed when on the road this season. He has to be considered the top pick of the week.

Of course, Drew Brees ($8,800) gets the benefit of playing indoors, an edge over Mahomes. In the Superdome, Brees has been dominant this year: 0.49 Passing NEP per drop back with a 62.7% success rate. Even against top-10 defenses at home (the Rams are 10th), Brees has produced 0.32 Passing NEP per drop back with a 59.5% success rate and 8.30 yards per attempt. He may be the "safer" lock, but Mahomes at home is a tick higher.

Sleeper: Tom Brady ($8,400) - Brady has been comfortably above average on the road (0.22 Passing NEP per drop back with a 50.0% success rate) but goes into his game without Josh Gordon. In three games without Gordon, Brady has 6 touchdowns and 2 picks with 0.23 Passing NEP per drop back, yet all three games have been at home. The Chiefs morph into a top-five defense at home and boast a stellar pass rush, but we've seen Brady overcome that with quick passes. Brady averaged just 2.33 seconds per attempt last week against the Los Angeles Chargers' pass rush. The Chiefs are strongest on the perimeter and rank 27th in target success rate allowed to running backs and 19th allowed to tight ends -- but 6th allowed to wide receivers. Exploiting the middle of the field, Brady threw 30 times combined to James White and Julian Edelman last week.

Running Backs

Lock: Alvin Kamara ($8,100) - Kamara played 69% of the snaps last week against the Philadelphia Eagles and also ran a route on 63% of the Saints' drop backs en route to tallying 16 carries and 4 targets. The Rams rank 25th in adjusted rush defense based on numberFire's metrics. The Saints have the highest implied total (although it's close) and are home favorites. His use on the ground and out of the backfield makes him game-script proof, and that gives him an edge over the other backs. Todd Gurley is an underdog and is at risk of losing touches to C.J. Anderson, even if Gurley is back to 100%. James White and Sony Michel split work and cap each other's ceilings. Spencer Ware's return to full health puts at least a little bit of a damper on how much we can trust Damien Williams.

Sleeper: Sony Michel ($7,500) - It's rare that we can consider a player coming off of a three-touchdown game anything close to a sleeper, but a few things about that. First, it's a two-game slate, so we can only do so much. Second, Michel is actually $300 more than Damien Williams, who projects to be a go-to option even with Spencer Ware back in the fold. Third, his teammate, James White ($7,700), is in a spot ripe for elevated targets as an underdog. It's reasonable to expect Michel to be lower owned than he probably should be, given his matchup. The Chiefs are 32nd in both adjusted rush defense and rushing success rate allowed to running backs. Michel got a touch on 67.1% of his regular season snaps, eight percentage points higher than any other running back who saw at least 20 snaps per game, via FantasyData. Michel's upside is obvious here, though he's a worse bet than White or Williams to come through. Thus, he registers as a sleeper.

Wide Receivers

Lock: Michael Thomas ($8,800) - Thomas ran every possible route last week and played 87% of the Saints' snaps. He garnered a week high 201 air yards on 16 targets, including 5 deep targets, 3 red zone targets, and 2 end zone targets. Simply put, no receiver has a workload or even a path to a workload quite as elite as the one Thomas owns on a weekly basis. The Rams' pass defense has been better with Aqib Talib (7.21 yards per attempt allowed with him and 8.83 yards per attempt without him, via TheQuantEdge), yet Thomas has averaged 22.8 FanDuel points at home even against top-half pass defenses this season.

Sleeper: Brandin Cooks ($6,900) - Cooks actually looks to be going a bit under-the-radar this week, and it makes sense. Sammy Watkins is $5,600 and coming off an eight-target game during which he led the Chiefs in snaps and routes. Cooks' teammate, Robert Woods ($7,100) is almost always the safer bet and is that again this week in the slot. Paying up at receiver is going to lead most people to Thomas, Tyreek Hill, Julian Edelman, and Woods. And the $5,000 range is littered with viable options (Watkins ($5,600), Josh Reynolds ($5,400), Ted Ginn Jr. ($5,300), Chris Hogan ($5,200), and even Keith Kirkwood ($5,100)). Cooks reeled in 6 of 8 targets for 114 yards and a touchdown against the Saints in their first meeting. Last week, he led the Rams in routes run (97%), air yards (76), deep targets (2), red zone targets (2), and end zone targets (2). The Saints rank 27th in adjusted yards per attempt allowed on deep balls, keeping Cooks very much in play for a ceiling game while most FanDuel users spend above or below him.

Tight Ends

Lock: Travis Kelce ($7,400) - Kelce is so far and away the best tight end that the slate almost comes down to whether or not you pay up for him. If you don't, you're spending down for Rob Gronkowski at $5,600 or down to Josh Hill at $4,600, and those are wild price swings in terms of your roster construction abilities. Kelce played 95% of the snaps (most among Chiefs pass catchers) and ran 85% of the routes last week (second-most) while seeing 110 air yards and 3 deep targets. The Patriots have generally held Kelce in check in prior meetings, including a 9-target, 5-catch, 61-yard, 69-air yard outing in Week 6. In that game, though, Kelce saw a deep target and two red zone targets. No other tight end is in his stratosphere in terms of predictability this week.

Sleeper: Gerald Everett ($4,400) - I'd like to recommend Josh Hill here, but with Benjamin Watson ruled out, Hill is likely going to be the third place FanDuelers look after Kelce and Gronk. We can instead dig into Gerald Everett here. His teammate, Tyler Higbee ($4,500), outsnapped him 70% to 43% and out-targeted him 4 to 2 last week, but Everett ran more routes (45% to 31%) and had an end zone target of his own. The Saints have put the clamps on almost every tight end this season, but in the event that the Rams chase points, Everett could come through as the top low-dollar tight end at low ownership while more users look to Hill and Higbee, who both look to be safer -- albeit more popular -- picks.