Daily Fantasy Football: Sannes' Situations to Monitor for the Conference Championships
You know you're in for a good week of football when the four best passing offenses in the NFL are all scheduled to face each other. That's what we get in these conference championships.
Based on numberFire's schedule-adjusted metrics, the Buffalo Bills, Green Bay Packers, Kansas City Chiefs, and Tampa Bay Buccaneers had the four most efficient passing attacks in the entire league this year. Those are the four teams left standing for this weekend. Ya think passing efficiency might matter?
That means -- even on a two-game slate -- there will be no shortage of good plays at quarterback, wide receiver, and tight end.
But running back? Whew, buddy; that is a different discussion.
Not only are we dealing with injury questions for two teams, but the one player who logged an 80% snap rate last week -- Devin Singletary -- is hideously inefficient and part of a team that is fine completely disregarding the ground game. Usually our issue on FanDuel is that we can use only three running backs per lineup; this week, it'll be a struggle to fill in even two spots.
As such, we've got to dig into both of these games, try to identify the optimal strategy to deploy at running back, and then see how that influences our plan of attack elsewhere. So let's dive in to this weekend's games and see how various situations impacting each team should alter the way we build lineups for Sunday.
Buccaneers at Packers
Between the two games, this is the one that is likely to be less popular for DFS players. It has a lower total and features two less exciting quarterbacks. You can understand why people would prefer the AFC side.
But the gap in the two totals is just 1.5 points, and there are plenty of reasons to dig this one. There's an incentive to be higher on this game than the public in order to be different. Thankfully, we've got multiple ways to go at this game without making irrational decisions.
That starts at running back, where we likely have the highest-upside players at the position. You are almost locked into ranking Aaron Jones first, and you can build a strong case for either Leonard Fournette or Ronald Jones.
Aaron Jones' usage last week was frustrating; there's no denying that. He lost work to both Jamaal Williams and A.J. Dillon, and he came through for fantasy only because he busted off a long play. It's hard to rely on those in back-to-back weeks.
But the broader picture on Jones is still advantageous relative to others on the slate. In the games he has played with Williams and Davante Adams, Jones has averaged 103.0 yards from scrimmage. He's an efficient player who gets creative touches, allowing him to rack up yardage in a hurry. Even if he does lose work to Williams and Dillon, he can still pay off.
Additionally, this is a defense against which Jones' skillset is more valuable. The Buccaneers finished first against the rush, per numberFire's schedule-adjusted metrics, and they're about to get Vita Vea back to clog up the interior. You want to attack them through the air, an area where Jones excels.
We saw the Packers take this approach in their Week 6 matchup with Tampa Bay. There, they threw 66.7% of the time on early downs in the first half. They got wiped in the game, but they were also up 10-0 at one point; their pass-heavy ways weren't a result of the scoreboard. They thought that was the best way to attack this defense. Jones had four targets in that first half before things got out of hand.
Jones' usage is likely to be annoying. He's going to lose work at an unfortunate time to Williams or Dillon, and you're going to want to chuck your remote at the TV. But the types of touches Jones gets allow us to still rank him first among the backs at $8,000.
The Week 6 plan of attack can also give us some optimism about the Bucs' backfield. We just have to decide who will be the one to benefit.
The Packers as a team are built to stop the pass rather than the rush. The Bucs recognized this in Week 6 and had a 47.8% early-down first-half pass rate, a big deviation from their full-season mark of 61.0%.
The obvious counterpoint is that this is a much different offense now than it was then. They've since added Antonio Brown, and Mike Evans is healthier now than he was then. Those are fully valid points and things we should consider.
Even still, the Bucs' early-down first-half pass rate in two playoff games is 56.1%. Although the passing offense is lighting things up, they're still willing to run the ball. They have incentive to do so here, so we shouldn't be surprised if they have a similar gameplan in the rematch.
That could put us heavily on Fournette. He had a great role last week, notching 17 carries and 6 targets. He could get that again, which is why Fournette is an option.
But Ronald Jones may be the more desirable piece between the two. Part of this is salary-related as Jones is $5,600 with Fournette at $7,200. With how tasty the high-salaried pass-catchers are, that's a significant gap.
Jones' role was also a bit underrated last week. Although Fournette was the clear lead option and pass-catching back, Jones still had just four fewer carries. Jones was also the more effective back, increasing the team's expected points for the drive on 69.2% of his carries. Fournette did so just 35.3% of the time.
Finally, Jones seemed to be the preferred back inside the red zone. He had four carries there while Fournette had two carries and a target. Jones had the lone opportunity between the two inside the five-yard line.
Jones is an extra week removed from his injury and said he's feeling better than he did a week ago. If he keeps the same role he had last week, he's in play at $5,600. However, with some upward expansion possible, Jones grades out as being one of the more palatable running-back plays on the slate. It's not to say you shouldn't use Fournette, but it might be wise to take the discount on Jones more often.
With Jones now healthy, the lone lingering injury question mark for the Bucs is Brown. He missed practice on Wednesday and Thursday and seems legitimately questionable. That should up our interest in Evans, whose salary is just $6,600.
Even in the games Evans has played alongside Brown, Evans has monopolized the high-leverage targets. Here, a "deep" target is one more than 15 yards beyond the line of scrimmage.
|With Brown and Evans||Overall Targets||Deep Targets||RZ Targets|
If Brown is taken out of the equation, the overall share should go up, giving Evans both a floor and a ceiling.
You could look back at the Week 6 matchup and get worried about Evans. There, he had just two targets. Given the strength of the Packers' corners, that's a fair concern.
However, this is not the same Evans we had back then. Leading up to that first game, Evans missed practice that Wednesday due to an ankle injury and didn't practice at all the previous week. His health has clearly trended up since then, and he has 110 receiving yards in three of the past five games. When you can get that production for just $6,600, it's hard to pass up no matter how good the opposing secondary may be.
If Brown can't go, it would bump up the appeal in Chris Godwin and Rob Gronkowski, as well. Godwin isn't likely to get gobs of downfield looks, but his overall target share boost would be enough to make him a consideration at $6,800. Gronkowski gets the high-leverage looks but also falls flat often because that's basically all he gets. So, if Brown can't go, give boosts to those two. But whether Brown plays or not, Evans is the top option here.
As for Tom Brady, he's the lowest-salaried quarterback on this slate. He's also likely to be the least popular given the implied totals for each team. But Brady still belongs in our player pool.
Brady's passing efficiency has been so good that he's generating upside even without rushing. He has at least 29 FanDuel points five times this year, equal to Patrick Mahomes and more than Aaron Rodgers (three). It's within the range of outcomes for Brady to be the highest-scoring quarterback on the slate.
It also helps that Brady has emphatically passed his first two tests this postseason. In the regular season, he struggled against top-10 pass defenses, averaging -0.09 Passing Net Expected Points (NEP) per drop back. NEP is the expected points metric we use at numberFire, and Passing NEP includes deductions for expected points lost on negative events such as sacks, incompletions, and interceptions. Brady ranked 28th out of 43 qualified quarterbacks in said split.
But the playoffs have been different. Both Washington and the New Orleans Saints have good pass defenses and can generate a pass rush. But in those games, Brady averaged 0.34 Passing NEP per drop back. The Packers are the worst pass defense he has faced in the playoffs, so he's firmly on the map in order to differentiate from the crowd.
Rodgers also passed a big test last week. He had to face the Los Angeles Rams without David Bakhtiari, and all he did was shred them with 0.55 Passing NEP per drop back. Given the importance of Bakhtiari, that was a massive bump for the Packers' outlook.
It's also important to note that the Packers' Week 6 flop was in a very different context. They didn't have Allen Lazard there, Robert Tonyan hadn't fully broken out, and they lost Bakhtiari mid-game. This time, Lazard and Tonyan are at full capacity, and they can at least plan around not having Bakhtiari. They're also at home, which won't hurt things.
The optimism around Brady and Rodgers is why we can consider focusing on this game if we want to be different. It's not as sexy as the late game, but if it goes massively overlooked, there are big advantages in loading up here.
There's also value to be had in the Packers' passing game. Nobody is going to touch Adams' range of outcomes, but they do have other pieces capable of generating a ceiling. Here are their target shares since Lazard's return.
|Since Lazard's Return||Overall Targets||Deep Targets||RZ Targets|
Things are pretty even between Lazard and Tonyan, so we can hold them in a similar regard. This is an interesting spot for Marquez Valdes-Scantling, though.
With Lazard hitting paydirt last week and Tonyan being the most appealing non-Travis Kelce option at tight end, both are likely to be popular. Valdes-Scantling, though, had just 33 yards last week, meaning he's likely to be third in this pecking order.
But Valdes-Scantling's role last week wasn't that bad. He was tied with Lazard for second on the team with eight targets, tying the most he had gotten all year. With how many of Valdes-Scantling's looks are long balls, he doesn't need a ton of looks to pay off.
If you're playing things safe, Lazard is your guy. He gets more targets, and he's more likely to haul his in. But Valdes-Scantling is a rare overlooked play on a two-game slate with a path to a 100-yard game, so we should take advantage when we have the stomach in tournaments.
Bills at Chiefs
It seems as though Mahomes will be good to go after logging another limited session on Thursday. That's the good.
The bad is that we have injury question marks almost everywhere else.
That includes in the backfield as Clyde Edwards-Helaire has been limited in practice both Wednesday and Thursday. This likely puts him on track to play. How we view him for DFS depends on Friday's practice report.
If Edwards-Helaire gets in a full practice, we can feel pretty decent about him. Le'Veon Bell isn't at full health, and Edwards-Helaire's role had been on the rise before his injury. His 74.2% snap rate in Week 14 was his highest of the entire season.
We also could see the Chiefs be a bit more run-heavy in this game. Not only is Mahomes dealing with his toe injury, but the Bills actively invited the Chiefs to run on them in Week 6. It's a smart strategy because you'd much rather see a rush attempt than a Mahomes drop back, so it wouldn't be a surprise to see something similar this week. That would be a boost for Edwards-Helaire, who had a season-high 26 carries for 161 yards in that game.
That isn't our most likely scenario, though. Given the way injury reports tend to break, we can probably assume that Edwards-Helaire will be limited again Friday and listed as questionable. That makes this a muddier situation.
If that happens, you have to make one of three assumptions around the team.
1. Edwards-Helaire is healthy enough to be the lead back. That would put him second among all running backs on the slate, trailing just Aaron Jones.
2. Edwards-Helaire is still banged up and plays a limited role. That'd make Darrel Williams fully in play at $6,000 given Bell's health and the role Williams had last week.
3. Edwards-Helaire is healthy enough to have a role but not to be featured. This is the nightmare scenario where they likely wind up as a split backfield.
The problem is that we aren't going to know which of those three is true before kickoff, unless Edwards-Helaire winds up being inactive. So we'll have to roll the dice and take some stands because one of those three possibilities is how things will play out in reality.
If you're filling out just one lineup, read all the news and reports you can, decide which outcome is most likely, and build your lineup based on that. If you're building multiple, you should still take in as much information as you can and play the percentages that way. In other words, if you think there's a 60% chance that Edwards-Helaire is a full go, then roughly 60% of your lineups should make that assumption.
The other injury question mark for the Chiefs is Sammy Watkins. Watkins missed last week but has practiced both Wednesday and Thursday, potentially putting him on track to return from a two-game absence. That wouldn't alter our outlook on Kelce and Tyreek Hill too much.
We did get a five-game sample on the Chiefs after Watkins returned from his first injury. In those five games, Hill and Kelce still got all the money looks.
|Weeks 12 to 16||Overall Targets||Deep Targets||RZ Targets|
Whether Watkins plays or not, they're going to get fed. Hill is the top receiver on the slate thanks to his ceiling and the desirability of this game. We should also rank him ahead of Kelce between the two because Hill's the guy more likely to hang a 40 burger.
The Watkins situation has more of an impact on how we view the value options. Specifically, he'd mush the appeal of everyone.
Ya hate to see it. Especially with John Brown at just $5,500 on the other side and Lazard and Valdes-Scantling in the other game, Watkins playing would make these guys close to cross-offs.
If Watkins can't go, then Hardman's the guy we want. He had four targets and a rush attempt last week, and the team actively schemed up touches for him. That's not going to happen with Robinson. We also know Hardman is more likely to get deep looks, so a path to upside does exist. He'd rank below Brown for sure, but we could at least consider Hardman if Watkins sits again.
Speaking of Brown, he's the best value play on the slate. Again.
Even though Brown dropped a donut on us in the Wild Card Round, his market shares in the playoffs have been rock solid.
|In Playoffs||Overall Targets||Deep Targets||RZ Targets|
Diggs is elite and ranks second behind Hill among the pass-catchers on the slate. But Brown's salary can help you jam in more of those delectable studs.
It's also possible Brown's role increases this week. Gabriel Davis has missed practice the first two days this week, and Cole Beasley was added to the injury report Thursday with a knee injury. If Davis misses, those high-leverage looks he has been getting will be up for grabs. Those could go Brown's way. An absence for Beasley might get Brown more gimme looks. Either way, this is a guy to whom you'll want plenty of exposure.
The receiver injuries are also impactful for Josh Allen. Straight up, Allen is the best quarterback play on the slate. With Mahomes' injuries, Allen is the one signal caller you can expect to run as he has averaged nine rush attempts per game in the playoffs. It's also a high-total game against a non-threatening defense. He's the ideal option.
But if both Beasley and Davis are banged up, things get a bit muddier. Davis has been great on those long balls, and Beasley is the safety blanket. That would lower Allen's projection a bit and further increase the incentive to be higher on the first game than the public. But if Beasley or Davis get the green light, Allen should be at the top of our list among quarterbacks.
The rushing discussion is pertinent with Mahomes. We saw him get an early rushing touchdown last week, and he ran a ton in the playoffs last year. But after the toe injury, he seemed hesitant to take off, running only reluctantly on one scramble after the injury. It's also possible Mahomes is less effective due to the ailments. As such, it might not be a terrible idea to be lower on Mahomes than consensus -- as frightening as that is -- and taking the savings elsewhere. There are just more paths to failure with him than he usually has.
As for the Bills' backfield, you know what you're getting with Singletary. It just ain't pretty.
Singletary has now played four full games without Zack Moss. In those, he has averaged 68.5 yards from scrimmage per game. Ronald Jones had just seven fewer yards last week while playing less than 30% of the snaps, his role could go up this week, and he's $200 lower-salaried. Singletary is a third-tier running back play due to his lack of a ceiling. You can bump him up in lineups with Allen, though, as it would assume the Bills would make abundant trips to the red zone, in which case Singletary could accidentally fall into the end zone. It's just important to be skeptical of Singletary, even on a slate lacking in high-upside options.