Daily Fantasy Football: Sannes' Situations to Monitor in the Conference Championships
The divisional round bore some resemblances to the NBA playoffs. Those overlaps are going to be key when deciding how to view things this weekend.
Over the course of the NBA season, you want to keep your guys fresh. It's a long year, and you don't want to burn them all up when the games matter less. Sure, you'd like to win, but you don't want to kill all playoff aspirations in the process.
The playoffs are a different story. There, you're not saving your guys for anything. If you lose, there's nothing for which to save them in the first place. They tighten up their rotations, leading to LeBron James averaging 38.5 minutes per game in his career during the regular season as opposed to 42.0 per game in the postseason.
NFL teams tightened up their rotations in the divisional round, specifically at running back. Damien Williams and Derrick Henry set season-highs for snap rate, and Aaron Jones played his highest snap rate in a game where Jamaal Williams was active. Clearly, our regular-season impressions of those guys are voided. They're different animals now.
While those three were the ones who got the biggest role changes, the broader point applies that we need to put more weight on what we see in the playoffs than what we saw during the regular season. Teams show us how they truly view players when they're in must-win scenarios. That'll be a key for daily fantasy on the two-game slate.
With that in mind, let's dive into situations impacting the two games this weekend and see what we can take away. All salaries referenced will be from FanDuel's two-game main slate.
Titans at Chiefs
Williams and Henry are the headliners here on a slate that's lacking in high-usage skill-position players. Let's start with Williams and the Kansas City Chiefs before diving into the other side of the ball.
Williams had played a good role when healthy all season long, but things got kicked to another level last week. He played 96.9% of the snaps, the most of any running back who played last week by more than 10 percentage points. He is a bellcow.
The yardage and efficiency weren't there -- and we shouldn't expect that to change with how solid the Titans have been against the rush this year -- but that matters far less than the usage. Williams had 12 carries and 6 targets, which is great to begin with. What makes it even better is that four of those targets were inside the 20-yard line, and three of the carries were inside the five. There's always some flukiness in a three-touchdown day, but it wasn't luck.
The Chiefs use their running backs in creative ways, getting them high-leverage targets beyond the line of scrimmage, and Williams is the only favored running back on the slate with a dependable workload. If you're filling out one lineup, Williams should be the first guy you plug in.
As mentioned, the matchup here does favor a bit of a pass-heavy approach. The Titans were 14th against the pass and eighth against the rush, according to numberFire's schedule-adjusted metrics. The Chiefs were the second-best passing offense in football even before you account for Patrick Mahomes missing 2.5 games. They're gonna air that sucker out on Sunday.
They did so with extreme effectiveness the first time these two teams saw each other in Week 10. It was Mahomes' first game back from his knee injury, and he finished with 24.59 Passing Net Expected Points (NEP). NEP is numberFire's expected points model, which tracks the number of expected points added or subtracted on each play throughout the season, and Passing NEP accounts for expected points lost on sacks, incompletions, and interceptions. That mark of 24.59 was Mahomes' second-best outing of the year, and he did it on a bum knee.
One potential rebuttal to expecting big efficiency out of the passing game here is that the Titans did just shut down Lamar Jackson and the Baltimore Ravens, the only team with a better schedule-adjusted passing efficiency number than the Chiefs. It's possible the Titans are playing better now than their full-season numbers would indicate.
That may not matter for Mahomes. Let's pretend for a second that they're suddenly a top-10 pass defense rather than the 14th-ranked one, which isn't all that bold of an assumption.
Mahomes had 113 drop backs this year against top-10 pass defenses. He averaged 0.34 Passing NEP per drop back in that time. That was actually better than he performed against lesser defenses and would have ranked third among all quarterbacks for the full season even if you include their numbers in softer matchups. Mahomes is a unicorn for whom matchups may not matter.
Because of this, we should expect the Chiefs to be able to move the ball with ease through the air. That benefits Williams because he gets work in that area and will have more touchdown chances, but it's also huge for Mahomes.
None of the quarterbacks left in the conference championships were bad during the regular season, which should go without saying. But Mahomes is the lone guy left standing who finished the year in the top six in Passing NEP per drop back. He also ran seven times in the divisional round, tying his highest mark for the season (previously set in a high-leverage Week 17 game). We saw Russell Wilson run more when the games mattered, and it wouldn't be a shock if Mahomes were to do the same here.
It's tough to get to Mahomes because he's $9,500, and we're scrambling for value with just two games on the slate. But he's still worth prioritizing, given the matchup, predicted plan of attack, and more.
The other downside of Mahomes is that it'll be hard to stack him with his top options in Travis Kelce and Tyreek Hill as both are super expensive ($7,800 and $7,400, respectively). They're good enough to be worth those stickers, though, and Sammy Watkins looks like a potential value outlet once again.
We've got seven games this year in which all of Mahomes, Hill, and Watkins have been healthy, including last week's divisional round game. Kelce has been the leading target-getter in that time, but Hills' deep work has been delicious (with a "deep" target being defined as one at least 16 yards downfield).
|With All Three Healthy||Overall Targets||Deep Targets||RZ Targets|
Because of this, both Kelce and Hill are worth targeting despite their high salaries. It might be tough to use both, though, especially if you're rolling out Mahomes at quarterback, meaning you'll have to choose one or the other. That's a tough task.
On the one hand, Kelce blew up last week and helps fill tight end. On the other, that'll also inflate his ownership, and Hill is coming off of a down game. There are reasons to go either way.
The reason we should potentially favor Hill if it's one tournament lineup is that the yardage upside tied to his deep target share is immense. He has had 140 or more yards twice this year, and not many guys on this slate can match that. One of those 140-yard days was a 19-target outing against the Titans the first time these two teams squared off. Although Kelce brings plenty of appeal, it may be best to have Hill atop our list.
If you can't afford those two (or just need help getting there), the Chiefs do have three potential value outlets in Watkins, Demarcus Robinson, and Mecole Hardman. Here's what those three did last week with route data via Pro Football Focus.
|In Divisional Round||Routes||Targets||Deep Targets|
This should make it clear why Watkins is our top value option.
Watkins has burned us repeatedly this year, so if seeing his name makes you cringe, you're not alone. But he is only $5,200, which accounts for his imperfections. His 76 yards last week are more than Corey Davis on the other side has had since Ryan Tannehill's first start of the year, so he can still pay off even with middling volume and production. Watkins is cheap access to the most pass-heavy and highest-projected offense on the slate, so tape those tear ducts tight, close your nose, and lock him in again if you must.
Although the routes heavily favored Robinson last week, we should probably rank Hardman higher among the other two. Robinson struggled with drops early on, and he had just one target in the second half while both Hardman and Watkins had two. Hardman also seemed to be the target on schemed touches, meaning the team wants the ball in his hands. Combine that with concerns around Robinson's playing time after all the drops, and Hardman becomes the preferred value, though both sit behind Watkins.
Because of what we discussed earlier, our baseline assumption for this game should be that the Chiefs will score points and move the ball well. That's a bit scary for Henry because we clearly want him operating from ahead. It's starting to seem, though, as if he'll be on the field no matter what.
In the regular season, we might worry about Henry getting yanked for Dion Lewis if the Titans were to fall behind. His snap rate in losses is 53.6% compared to 72.2% in wins, so that's not a baseless assumption at all.
But as mentioned, the playoffs are a different beast. Henry has run a route on 16 of 31 drop backs, according to Pro Football Focus, meaning that even if they fall behind, Henry could still be on the field, if nothing else. That's a boost to his floor should things go awry.
It's also in the Titans' best interest to have Henry out there if they're passing. Tannehill has averaged 10.84 yards per pass attempt when Henry is on the field, according to The Quant Edge, compared to 7.12 when he's off. Part of that is because the passes are more likely to be efficient, early-down passes when Henry is out there, but it also anecdotally makes sense that Henry's presence would be a boon for the passing game. Just because Henry was subject to be gamescripted out in the regular season doesn't mean the same will be true in a win-or-go-home scenario.
That's why you can still use Henry at $9,800 even if you assume the Titans lose this game. He'll also be arguably the top play of the week in lineups where you assume the Titans win, given that the Chiefs ranked 28th against the rush in the regular season and may again be without Chris Jones after he missed practice Wednesday and Thursday. There are a lot of scenarios where Henry pays off his high salary tag.
The spots where you can justify fading Henry are those where he performs well but doesn't necessarily go nuts. It's tough to pay off that salary without passing-game work, so even if Henry runs for 125 yards and a touchdown, it's not necessarily a lock that he'll be a must-have play. He wasn't in the divisional round's perfect lineup despite running for 195 yards because there were studs who did more elsewhere.
If you're filling out a single lineup, Henry deserves to be one of the backs you heavily consider. He's not as much of a lock as Williams, though, given the salary gap and Williams' status as a heavy home favorite. It just depends on how much you prioritize guys like Hill and Kelce that will dictate whether Henry fits your build. But if you're doing multiple lineups, you absolutely need to include Henry in your rotation at running back to account for the numerous scenarios in which the Titans keep the game close or win outright.
The issue with the Henry-heavy script is that it kills the appeal in all the pass-catchers. None of them have brought hope the past two weeks.
In total, Tannehill has thrown just 29 times the first two games, racking up 160 passing yards in that time. Nobody has had more than five targets across the two games combined.
|In Playoffs||Overall Targets||Deep Targets||RZ Targets|
In theory, the Titans have low-cost passing-game pieces we could target, especially Jonnu Smith at $5,600. It's just tough to get super jazzed when you know their fever dream is a scenario where Tannehill throws five total times.
Still, as with Henry, there's a range of outcomes. They could fall behind, inflating that volume and giving the pass-catchers increased viability. And if that happens, then both Smith and Corey Davis are potential value outlets.
Smith played 94.6% of the snaps last week, most of any tight end still alive outside of George Kittle. He can generate yards after the catch and haul in a sick tuddy, as he showed last week. He has no floor, but if you can't get to Kelce and Kittle, Smith is the only other guy guaranteed to be on the field a bunch.
Davis has fewer targets in the playoffs than Tajae Sharpe and is more expensive. That may make pedaling Davis a bit confusing. But it looks like Adam Humphries may return from a six-game absence, which is more likely to hurt Sharpe than Davis.
Update from Thursday's @Titans practice:
WR Adam Humphries and LB Jayon Brown back on the field again.
CB Logan Ryan (illness) returned to practice
— Jim Wyatt (@jwyattsports) January 16, 2020
In the final two games Humphries played before getting hurt, Davis played 73.6% and 68.3% of the snaps, respectively. Sharpe played only 17.0% of the snaps in Week 12 and then was inactive in Week 13 due to a hamstring injury.
If Humphries comes back, either he or Sharpe could wind up riding the pine, which makes both risky options. Davis would seem a bit more stable, making him preferable among the value plays at $5,000.
If Humphries doesn't play, then you could consider Sharpe, but he would likely still grade out as being below Davis. Here's the team's target distribution in the six games that Humphries has missed.
|Past 6 Games||Overall Targets||Deep Targets||RZ Targets|
So whether Humphries plays or not, Davis is our top value option here. But Sharpe becomes another outlet at $4,700 if Humphries sits.
The issue with A.J. Brown is that he costs $6,800, making potential volume concerns more alarming. The reduced salary around Davis safeguards you a bit. Brown works if you wind up in the salary tier or if you assume the Titans are forced into a more pass-heavy script, but we shouldn't necessarily view him as being a priority.
Packers at 49ers
Like Williams and Henry, Aaron Jones also got a role change last week, and it helps his outlook a bunch for DFS. But as Dalvin Cook showed last week, that's not a lock to matter when you're facing the San Francisco 49ers' defense.
Cook played 82.6% of the snaps there, his highest rate of the entire season, and got eight targets. Despite that, he finished with just 26 yards from scrimmage. When an entire offense falls flat, the odds that the team's running back winds up being a usable DFS asset are microscopic.
Unfortunately for Jones, we've already seen the Green Bay Packers do that once against the 49ers this year. They lost, 37-8, in the regular-season meeting, and the Packers abandoned ship, giving Tim Boyle snaps at quarterback in the fourth quarter. If that happens again, there's no chance that Jones is worth his $7,800 salary.
Just because it happened in the regular season, though, doesn't mean it'll happen again here.
One major change on the 49ers' side is that they'll have Dee Ford and Kwon Alexander available after they made their return from injury last week. That bolsters their defense and dampens the outlook for the Packers.
But it's also important to remember that right tackle Bryan Bulaga got hurt nine snaps into the first meeting. The Packers' line proceeded to collapse, and four of Rodgers' five sacks came after Bulaga's exit. Things spiraled, and the Packers eventually mailed it in.
Bulaga also missed the divisional round, but that was due to illness, and he should be good to go this weekend. They also signed Jared Veldheer late in the regular season, and Veldheer was at least not a complete liability at right tackle against the Seattle Seahawks. The Packers should be better equipped to handle the 49ers' pass rush this time around, even with Ford and Alexander in the mix.
That's big for Jones. He played 84.4% of the snaps in the divisional round, getting 21 carries and 2 targets. The target total was low, but he ran 20 routes, second-most on the team, according to Pro Football Focus. In a more neutral script, it's fair to expect closer to five targets for Jones, which is valuable.
The view of Jones should be a scaled-back version of what we discussed with Henry. In the lineups where you assume the team gets wiped, Jones is an easy cross-off. But if you assume they keep it close or win, then Jones is a high-quality play at $7,800. Although he's below both Williams and Henry, Jones is easily the third-best running back on the slate.
The backs on the other side of the field are a lot tougher to judge. Raheem Mostert had put up monster efficiency down the stretch, but he took a back seat to Tevin Coleman in the divisional round with Coleman getting a season-high 21 carries. There is no bellcow here.
Part of the reason Coleman went off was that Mostert was dealing with cramps and left in the fourth quarter. But that doesn't fully explain it.
Mostert was playing special teams deep in the third quarter and recovered a fumble on a punt with about a minute left there. So Mostert's calf and his sickness weren't bothering him at that point if he was still in on special teams. And even at that point in the game, Coleman was still getting impactful volume. Here's the split of the work for each of the top three backs the first three quarters.
|First Three Quarters||Carries|
It was actually Matt Breida who got the first carry of the game, and Coleman mixed in with a carry on the first series, as well. Mostert was a fixture on the second drive, but to say that his decreased involvement was due only to the injury would be misleading.
Because Coleman was so effective, it wouldn't be a surprise to see him operate as the team's lead back again this weekend. But Mostert could also spring back up now that he's no longer battling a sickness, and Breida's still going to get at least some action, as well. Nobody here has a workload on par with the other three main backs on the slate.
In lineups where we assume the 49ers roll -- which is very much possible -- we can take stabs at this backfield, likely favoring Coleman because of what he did last week. Mostert fits in those assumption lineups, as well, and the savings on those two guys at $6,500 and $5,800, respectively. We can also plug them into our flex if they're the last spot on our roster and we're not enthused with the receiver options in those salary tiers. We just have to know that the floor here will be uninspiring, and none of them have a ceiling on par with the workhorses at the top end of the spectrum.
Those are potential value options who can help you get up to Mahomes and Henry. But the more preferable route is likely Emmanuel Sanders.
Last week, Sanders had two catches within the first five plays, making it look like he was going to pay off his salary. Then the 49ers got ahead and shut down the passing game, leading to a whopping zero receptions the rest of the game. Sub-optimal.
If the Packers can keep this game close, then we should expect Jimmy Garoppolo to throw more than 19 times. If he does, Sanders should pop as a value play.
Counting last week, the 49ers have had nine games with both Sanders and Kittle active. Although Kittle has been the target monster, Sanders has gotten a better workload than you usually see for guys his salary.
|With Kittle and Manny||Overall Targets||Deep Targets||RZ Targets|
As long as we get 25 to 30 passes for the 49ers, Sanders should get a fair number of targets. That's all you can ask out of a value.
If you assume the 49ers win this game going away, you should use the cheap running backs. If you assume it's close or the 49ers lose, then Sanders can be your guy. Either way, the 49ers should give you some outlet for spending down.
Outside of Mahomes and Kelce, the other incentive for spending down is getting access to Kittle at $7,000. The gap between him and Kelce has grown to $800 thanks to Kelce's big game last week.
That's not enough for us to label Kittle as the top option once you consider salary. Kelce's playing in the better game environment, and we should expect his team to be much more pass-happy. If you have the salary to get to Kelce, he's the better play. But if it would really harm you elsewhere, then Kittle is a respectable consolation.
In the event this game stays close, we can expect Kittle to lead the team in targets, and he doesn't need much in the volume department to pay off in DFS. Two of his three 100-yard games this year came on eight or fewer targets, and he still has at least 67 receiving yards in 9 of the past 12 games. He's more of a 1b to Kelce's 1a rather than being a full tier below.
As for Deebo Samuel, he's effectively a more expensive version of Sanders at $6,300, though there's a reason Deebo is the more expensive option. In addition to the target load above, Samuel has nine rush attempts the past five games. They're trying to get the ball in his hands, and just like we said with Hardman, that's valuable. If you have the salary to get to Samuel, he's absolutely fine at $6,300. It's just that we're trying desperately to save money on this slate, and that $800 makes a big difference.
Among the starting quarterbacks, Garoppolo is the cheapest at $7,600. He's also at home on a team with the second-highest implied total. Because the touchdowns could break in his favor, this is all enough to put Garoppolo second on our list behind Mahomes. We just have to keep in mind what was cautioned above where if the Packers fall flat, Garoppolo's volume will, too. That's why getting up to Mahomes seems to be such a big priority for Sunday's games.
As for Aaron Rodgers, he seems to be a tier below Garoppolo simply because of the expected efficiency of both offenses. Rodgers is preferable to Tannehill in the other game because Rodgers will at least have volume, but the underdogs are underdogs for a reason. There's a path to a big game for Rodgers if this one shoots out, and those odds are higher with Bulaga available, but there's a clear gap from Mahomes to Garoppolo to the others.
That shouldn't scare us off of Davante Adams. Over the past three games -- all of which have effectively been "must-win" scenarios -- Adams has 35.1% of the team's targets and 33.3% of the deep targets. That's in addition to his juicy role near the goal line.
Adams is less dependent on efficiency than Rodgers to pay off, so we can still use him even if we expect the Packers to struggle a bit on offense. Adams is also preferable to Jones there because Jones would lose one of his sources of upside with decreased rushing output. Adams should grade out below Hill among the expensive receivers because of each player's respective game environment, but there's still plenty to like here.
The same cannot be said about the value plays on this offense. Those are much more of a mess.
Going into last week, it seemed like Allen Lazard had separated as the team's number two receiver behind Adams. Then Lazard promptly injured his ankle in the first half and didn't play in the second half (though he was cleared to return). Just when we thought we had them figured out.
Lazard seems to be healthy enough this time around, logging limited practices on both Wednesday and Thursday. He's probably going to be active on Sunday. We just don't know what his role will be.
Because Lazard had been playing well earlier, he's still the guy we should turn to most often when paying down within this offense. His snap rate had been above 75% in three straight games to close out the regular season, and he's still second behind Adams in targets the past three games despite getting none last week. Lazard also gets high-leverage looks down the field, so for $5,100, he's worth the risk. We should just view him as being below the top two values on the slate in Emmanuel Sanders and Sammy Watkins.
If you make the assumption that Lazard's health is more of a concern, then Jake Kumerow appears to be the next man up. He was fourth on the team in routes last week behind Adams, Jones, and Jimmy Graham, and he played 46.9% of the snaps. Kumerow played heavy snaps in a few games earlier in the year and still didn't get volume, so he's very much a last-resort type play, but he works if Lazard's health is still up in the air.
As far as Graham goes, his 16 routes run were third on the team, but that represents a route on just 55.2% of Rodgers' drop backs. That's not a huge number, and it should push us to prefer Jonnu Smith among the cheaper tight ends.
If you're really looking to punt at tight end, both Robert Tonyan and Jace Sternberger played a decent number of snaps last week, and Sternberger got one target. Tonyan ran 12 routes, only four less than Graham, and he has an impressive athletic profile. At $4,200, using Tonyan would give you lots of flexibility to pay up for studs, and given the outlook at tight end after Kelce and Kittle, it's not the worst idea to give this route a sniff.