FanDuel Daily Fantasy Football Helper: Conference Championships
Welcome to our weekly FanDuel NFL primer, where we give you an overview of the main slate to help you get started on your research.
As always, we recommend checking out all of numberFire's daily fantasy tools at your disposal. In particular, our weekly projections can help you nail down who might be the slate's top scorers and best values, while the heat map is a great way to get a general overview of the slate's implied totals and every team's strengths and weaknesses.
Now, let's run through some of the top plays on Sunday's two-game Conference Championship slate.
While there is an obvious top option at the position, quarterback boils down to a three-horse race between Patrick Mahomes ($8,800), Joe Burrow ($7,500), and Matthew Stafford ($7,500). All three have median projections of 19 or more FanDuel points in numberFire's model, and all three have demonstrated slate-winning upside.
Of course, the lone exclusion is Jimmy Garoppolo ($6,200), who lags behind the others by a wide margin.
Garoppolo has played through recent thumb and shoulder issues in the playoffs, and the results haven't been pretty, with Jimmy G falling well short of double-digit FanDuel points in both outings. It's also been abundantly clear all season that the 49ers prefer to limit his passes anyway, as Garoppolo has hit 20 FanDuel points only once in the last 10 games. Despite the low salary, it's hard to see him posting the type of score we need in tournaments.
Circling back, Mahomes is the top option I alluded to -- shocking, I know -- after blowing up for 38.06 and 40.02 points this postseason.
At home versus the Bengals in a game with an elite 54.5 total, you don't really need much convincing to roster him with the hopes of another slate-breaking performance. The added bonus is that he's also the only remaining quarterback who runs every now and then, averaging 3.9 rushes for 22.4 yards per game in the regular season while occasionally going well above that as he did last week.
Burrow is a logical alternative on the other side of that potential shootout, and while he hasn't lit it up in the playoffs, he finished the regular season on his own tear, racking up 38.10 and 34.84 FanDuel points -- the latter of which came in a 34-31 win over Kansas City.
According to Football Outsiders, the Chiefs have a bottom-five adjusted sack rate (5.5%), so Burrow should have an easier time in the pocket after taking 9 sacks last week versus the Titans. Kansas City also allowed the second-most FanDuel points to opposing quarterbacks this season. A far better outing could be in store for Burrow than we've seen these past two weeks.
The game environment might not be as ideal for Stafford (45.5-point total) against a run-heavy San Francisco team, and that's reflected in his median projection ranking third.
Still, in spite of some missteps down the stretch, Stafford's been the league's most efficient passer in terms of Passing Net Expected Points (NEP) per drop back, due in no small part to his connection to this season's top fantasy wideout in Cooper Kupp ($9,700). He, and the NFC championship as a whole, will presumably get much less attention compared to the first game.
At running back, Joe Mixon ($8,200) gets top billing in our projections, which is baked into his position-high salary.
Following a recent bump in receiving work, Mixon's averaged a robust 28.3 adjusted opportunities (carries plus 2x targets) over his last four games, enjoying a 17.2% target share during this stretch. He has the most dependable volume on the slate, and the targets should keep him involved even if the Chiefs get out to an early lead.
Elijah Mitchell ($7,000) is the other guy with a locked-in role, logging 31 and 25 adjusted opportunities in San Francisco's playoff games.
While he generally only sees a handful of targets at best, he flirts with 20-plus carries every week and can well exceed that when the game script allows. Mitchell tallied 27 and 21 carries in this year's regular-season bouts against the Rams, and he's a wise investment if you foresee the 49ers tacking on another victory to their six-game win streak over LA.
On paper, Cam Akers ($6,200) and Jerick McKinnon ($6,200) are the other lead backs at our disposal, and both are particularly enticing at these modest salaries. However, there are slight concerns for each one this weekend.
Akers saw elite usage in the Divisional Round with 30 adjusted opportunities and an 80.0% snap rate, and his potential is tantalizing if he's given the reins again. But two fumbles contributed to a near-epic collapse against Tampa Bay, which could have him on thin ice. A mid-game benching can't be ruled out if Akers commits another costly mistake, or it's possible that Sony Michel ($5,300) re-enters the picture and splits the work this time around.
numberFire's model projects Akers as the best value at the position, and it's easy to see why. It's just that he could have a wider range of outcomes than we might like.
Meanwhile, McKinnon dominated work again last week, logging 24 adjusted opportunities and a 68.5% snap rate. While that more than doubled up Clyde Edwards-Helaire ($5,700) in both categories (11 adjusted opportunities; 31.5% snap rate), Edwards-Helaire was the more productive rusher (7 carries; 60 yards) compared to McKinnon (10 carries; 24 yards), which could lead to more early-down volume.
Given how he's been utilized in the playoffs, McKinnon is still the far safer bet to lead this backfield in snaps, and his passing-game role is a near certainty after posting a 16.5% target share across the last two games. But as much as I don't trust CEH, if a split backfield materializes, it would give him sneaky value on Sunday.
Figuring out which wideouts to prioritize naturally coincides with which offenses you're stacking in a given lineup, so we'll roll through them team by team.
Hill led Kansas City in targets in the regular season and has a team-high 22.8% target share in the playoffs. He flashed his ceiling in last week's game, too, hauling 11-of-13 targets for 150 yards and a score. While he's "only" third in numberFire's wide receiver projections, he has as good a shot as anyone at leading the position in points.
Pringle is third in target share for the Chiefs this postseason (17.7%) and seems to have cemented himself as the team's number two wideout. In fact, he's accrued at least seven targets in four of his last five games. Pringle's clearly behind Hill and a certain Kansas City tight end in the pecking order, but he's a viable way to get cheap exposure to this offense.
Chase has out-classes Higgins in both volume and production lately, and he's definitely the top choice. However, it's worth noting that when looking at the season as a whole, the two have seen similar usage. Across 16 games together, Chase has logged a healthy 24.2% target share and 37.8% air yards share, but Higgins is close behind at 23.3% and 34.4%. Higgins is one of the top values at the position.
In that same sample, Boyd's a distant third in both target share (16.1%) and air yards share (16.0%), and he's been fairly quiet in the playoffs. We also aren't getting a huge discount compared to Higgins' salary, either. Even so, his role is good enough to keep him in the mix for game stacks in case this game goes nuclear.
In the NFC battle, the aforementioned Cooper Kupp is a no-brainer, and he's the top projected wide receiver as always. However, he also has the highest salary among all players, so he probably makes more sense in lineups that revolve around the Bengals-Chiefs matchup failing to live up to expectations.
Odell Beckham ($6,300) and Van Jefferson ($5,200) are the other Rams wideouts to consider. In seven post-bye games with Kupp, Beckham, Jefferson, and Tyler Higbee ($5,500) active, Beckham's seen a 20.1% target share, while Jefferson comes in at 15.0%. Jefferson's also been a non-factor in the playoffs, notching just four total targets.
Beckham is a solid value, though at roughly the same salary, Higgins probably has the easier path to a spike week. Jefferson feels like a fringe value behind guys like Pringle and Boyd.
On San Francisco, Deebo Samuel ($8,400) is the lone pass-catcher immune to this offense's run-happy ways -- because he's a big part of said run game.
Samuel's only garnered a 16.3% target share this postseason, but he's also earned 10 carries in each game. Regardless of the role, we've witnessed Samuel thrive, and two of his biggest games came against Los Angeles this season. He's an intriguing one-off even if you're stacking the other game.
Brandon Aiyuk ($5,600) is the more volatile 49er, particularly after getting one measly target last week. But he owned a team-high 24.0% target share the week prior and has led all 49ers wide receivers in snap rate (88.7%) and route rate (89.6%) this postseason. If you're banking on Jimmy G bouncing back with a productive game, Aiyuk ought to be a big part of that.
Travis Kelce ($7,700) has both the highest salary and projection at the position by a country mile and deservedly so. He and Tyreek Hill have been Mahomes' favorite pass-catchers all season, and that's carried over into the playoffs, where Kelce has recorded a 20.3% target share and converted that into back-to-back scores of 19-plus FanDuel points.
But if you can't find the cap space for Kelce, there's actually quite a bit of value at the position. Every other tight end has a salary below $6,000.
George Kittle ($5,800) stands out as the obvious "buy low" here. The low-volume nature of the San Francisco passing offense has left Kittle with underwhelming results lately, as he's failed to score double-digit points in five straight games.
But we've seen his ceiling when Garoppolo does air it out, which shouldn't be ignored on the short slate. With Deebo Samuel taking on a hybrid role these days, Kittle's led the team with a 20.9% target share in the playoffs, and he's also led all 49ers pass-catchers in snap rate (97.4%) and route rate (89.6%).
The other two values are C.J. Uzomah ($5,600) and Tyler Higbee.
Uzomah has enjoyed a 20.9% target share in the postseason, but if we expand to all games with Chase, Boyd, and Higgins active this season, he's behind all three at a more modest 13.3%. Still, he's essentially Burrow's third or fourth option in a fantasy-friendly game environment, which is something we can latch onto.
Finally, Higbee's quietly seen a 20.4% target share in the postseason and a 19.2% share in all his post-bye games since Beckham joined the team. While his game may have the lesser fantasy environment than Uzomah's (on paper anyway), Higbee has the more consistent role. Like Kittle, he's the rare tight end who rarely leaves the field, sporting a 98.4% snap rate and 89.8% route rate in the playoffs.
As a bonus, both Uzomah and Higbee ought to garner less attention than Kelce and Kittle, too.
Choosing your defense will probably more boil down to which teams you're stacking than anything else, but the Kansas City D/ST ($3,700) projects as the best value.
They have the third-highest salary despite being the biggest favorite. Their recent performances against quality offenses (including Cincinnati) don't exactly inspire confidence, but the pass-heavy game environment theoretically lends itself to sacks and turnovers. They figure to be the chalk pick.
The Rams are home favorites against the weakest quarterback left, and they're projected for the most raw fantasy points. According to numberFire's metrics, they're also the best unit left, ranking fourth in adjusted total defense. However, if San Francisco is able to find success with its rushing attack, this LA defense may not face as many pass attempts from Jimmy G, which is something to consider.
The 49ers also rate favorably in our metrics (10th in adjusted total defense), and they've had the Rams' number this season, leading to 16 and 9 FanDuel points. As slight underdogs, they'll presumably see a lower roster percentage, adding to their tournament appeal.
Bringing up the rear, it's hard to get on board with the Cincinnati D/ST ($3,200) against Mahomes, but you never know when a tipped ball could lead to a fluke touchdown. If nothing else, the salary is appealing if you aren't stacking Kansas City.