Daily Fantasy Football: Sannes' Situations to Monitor in the Conference Championships

The mind of an NFL head coach has to be a wild place. These are hyper-competitive individuals who have ascended to the top of one of the most exclusive clubs in the world.

They are, simply put, stone-cold psychos.

That's bad news bears for us this week. We've got a couple of key situations that appear fluid entering the conference championships. We have to try to predict how these unhinged individuals will handle them, an endeavor with which we typically struggle.

But with just two games on the daily fantasy football slate, we don't have a choice. We have to figure out whether Sean McVay will scale back Cam Akers following a pair of fumbles and whether Andy Reid tilts things more toward Clyde Edwards-Helaire after he flashed in his return last week.

There's a good chance we guess wrong here because, again, coaches are weirdos. We should at least be able to make those guesses educated, though, based on some data and past tendencies.

With that said, let's dive into this two-game slate. We'll start with the key situations impacting the Cincinnati Bengals versus the Kansas City Chiefs before outlining what we need to know for the San Francisco 49ers versus the Los Angeles Rams.

Bengals at Chiefs

With so many steady, stable pieces in this game, the Chiefs' backfield is the key talking point. It's just hard to get a read on how they'll play things.

If Edwards-Helaire hadn't played well, this wouldn't be a discussion; it'd be Jerick McKinnon's backfield. He excelled in the wild card round and played all 11 snaps in the first quarter last week. As the game went on, though, Edwards-Helaire's role expanded.

Snaps by Quarter 1st 2nd 3rd 4th OT Full Game
Jerick McKinnon 100.0% 60.0% 70.0% 64.3% 50.0% 68.5%
Clyde Edwards-Helaire 0.0% 40.0% 30.0% 35.7% 50.0% 31.5%

Although McKinnon had a nice gain on a screen in overtime, it was Edwards-Helaire who played the first snap there.

It's not as if McKinnon played poorly in this game. But with Edwards-Helaire turning 7 carries and 2 targets into 69 yards from scrimmage, we shouldn't be shocked if their roles change on Sunday.

To me, the most likely scenario is a split backfield here. That hurts the upside of both guys and prevents either from being a priority, even at low salaries.

They're both worth swipes, though, for tournaments. Not only is there a chance that one of them has a decent role, but this Bengals defense gives up a bunch of targets to running backs. That would favor McKinnon, who ran a route on four of six drop backs during overtime compared to Edwards-Helaire's one. As such, McKinnon is my preferred guy here between the two, but neither is a priority, and both are worth exposure when multi-entering.

On the other side, we get Joe Mixon, easily the steadiest back on the slate, and thus the one to whom we should have the most exposure. We have a 17-game sample on Mixon at full snaps, and he's averaging 97.9 yards from scrimmage per game in that span. He also has 45.6% of the team's red-zone opportunities, a healthy amount higher than Eli Mitchell's mark of 31.2%.

Mixon is someone we can trust even at a high salary and high roster rates due to the role he has carved out in the passing game. With the Bengals letting it rip more recently, Mixon has averaged 6.5 targets and 47.3 yards per game over his past 4. For me, that puts him a full tier above Mitchell and makes him one of the top priorities at any position on the slate.

With the passing-game pieces, we know what to do on both sides. You trust the studs and proceed with caution around the value.

The more dependable value options are on the Bengals in Tyler Boyd and C.J. Uzomah. In games they've played with Tee Higgins since his return from injury in Week 5, both Boyd and Uzomah have had non-negligible roles.

Since Higgins' Return Overall Targets Deep Targets RZ Targets
Ja'Marr Chase 24.6% 41.5% 22.8%
Tee Higgins 22.9% 30.5% 19.3%
Tyler Boyd 15.3% 15.9% 12.3%
CJ Uzomah 14.0% 4.9% 15.8%

Those shares for a full slate wouldn't be great. But they do stand out when compared to those of Byron Pringle on the other side. Here are the Chiefs' shares since the bye when they've had both Travis Kelce and Tyreek Hill at full health.

With Kelce and Hill Since Bye Overall Targets Deep Targets RZ Targets
Tyreek Hill 24.2% 47.8% 27.8%
Travis Kelce 23.2% 8.7% 22.2%
Byron Pringle 13.0% 8.7% 16.7%

Between Boyd, Uzomah, and Pringle, Boyd will be my preferred choice. Boyd gets us access to better yardage upside than Pringle without fully sacrificing the role Pringle has near the goal line. In that split above (which excludes Week 18 when Hill played limited snaps), Pringle's max receiving output is 37 yards. Boyd's yardage output has been muted of late, but he does at least have paths to bigger games. Even if the median expectation for both is relatively similar, the odds Boyd makes you regret not using him are higher.

This conversation, obviously, doesn't lump Higgins in with the values because his salary is higher. With that said, Higgins is one of the most under-salaried options on the slate. Although he's the clear second fiddle behind Ja'Marr Chase, Higgins is likely to get volume and has a really nice ceiling. That's hard to duplicate for $6,400.

This support of Mixon and all the Bengals' pass-catchers could make it seem like we're too high on the Bengals, who are seven-point underdogs in this game. That could be true.

But this game has a total that's nine points higher than the other game, and the Bengals are a more aggressive (read: pass-heavy) offense than either the Rams or 49ers. In their first meeting with the Chiefs, the Bengals threw the ball 76% of the time on early downs in the first half. The Rams had a 52% early-down first-half pass rate in two meetings with the 49ers while the 49ers were at 37% in those games. That helps everyone, including Mixon. So while it could be risky to overexpose ourselves to a team unlikely to win, I'm comfortable doing it in this specific spot.

That pass-heavy nature is also why Joe Burrow is above Matthew Stafford at quarterback for me on this slate (though both are a tier below Patrick Mahomes). Stafford figures to be more efficient because he's playing in a dome and a slight favorite in his game, but Burrow may chuck it a ton. There isn't a "wrong" answer on which you prefer, but I'd lean Burrow due to projected pass rates.

49ers at Rams

The Akers discussion in this game is complicated to begin with. But we also have to consider that Darrell Henderson is back this week, as well.

Henderson was activated from injured reserve last week but downgraded to out. Henderson wasn't listed on the injury report this week, which means he was a full participant in Wednesday's practice. That means he's likely back this week.

Personally, I'm fine not accounting for Henderson too much. He had fallen behind Michel even before his injury, and Michel was a clear second behind Akers before the fumbles. But there is at least a non-zero chance that Henderson has a role.

If we push him aside momentarily, there's still cause for uncertainty with Akers. He lost two fumbles in key situations, and it was Michel on the field for the Rams' final drive.

If Akers were to get a role decrease, it likely wouldn't be enough to make Michel an option. Akers would still get work, likely in the passing game, which makes it tougher for Michel to break out. So, this is more about figuring out what to do with Akers than it is seeing if we should roster Michel.

The most likely scenario seems to be that Akers continues to be the lead back, albeit with a short leash and potentially a bit less work. That type of role would still be enough for him to be viable at $6,200, especially with shakiness elsewhere at running back. As such, Akers is still someone we can and should use. However, we'll want to keep a lid on our exposure levels in order to safeguard ourselves if the fumbles do put him in the doghouse.

The role for Eli Mitchell on the other side isn't in question. We know he's the top guy. His question mark revolves more around the offensive line.

Left tackle Trent Williams -- one of the best offensive players regardless of position in football -- missed practice Wednesday due to an ankle injury. If Williams can't go, it'd put the 49ers' offense in a rough spot, increasing the odds they fully disappoint this weekend. If that happens, Mitchell's bust potential is high given his lackluster role in the passing game.

Assuming Williams does play, then Mitchell becomes more steady. Since George Kittle's return from injury, the 49ers have played seven games with both Mitchell and Deebo Samuel active. In those, Mitchell has led the team with 101.3 yards from scrimmage per game.

With Everyone Active Carries Targets Yards RZ Share
Eli Mitchell 21.1 2.7 101.3 28.6%
Deebo Samuel 6.6 5.3 97.3 28.6%
Brandon Aiyuk 0.3 5.4 67.6 2.4%
George Kittle 0.1 5.0 41.4 11.9%

In the playoffs, Mitchell has shot down to just 78.0 yards per game, which again illustrates why there is some risk in his profile. His $7,000 salary does account for that, meaning in a vacuum, Mitchell is easily second among the backs behind Mixon.

To me, the strategy at running back revolves around fully committing to Mixon and then differentiating at my second option. All four of Mitchell, Akers, McKinnon, and Edwards-Helaire have paths to being the second highest-scoring back on the slate, but all four also have obvious paths to failure. As such, I'm comfortable just rotating through that second back slot and taking swipes while starting my lineups with Mixon.

Part of the reason I'm comfortable using just two backs and going elsewhere in the flex is that the pass-catchers this week are strong. And, yes, "pass-catchers" is intentional because tight end kinda doesn't suck, and I'm very open to having two in the same lineup.

You saw the appeal in Kelce earlier. Even without downfield work, the guy continues to shred.

But in this game, we get Kittle and Tyler Higbee at salaries in the $5,000 range. Kittle has a brutal floor and, thus, isn't a priority, but we know his ceiling. His talent means he still has access to upside, even if he hasn't tapped into it recently.

As for Higbee, he scored twice when these two teams saw each other back in Week 18. He's also just a smidge behind Odell Beckham in overall target share in games they've played together since the bye.

With Higbee Since Bye Overall Targets Deep Targets RZ Targets
Cooper Kupp 27.8% 28.9% 33.3%
Odell Beckham 20.1% 22.2% 27.8%
Tyler Higbee 19.2% 13.3% 11.1%
Van Jefferson 15.0% 26.7% 13.9%

Higbee's salary is just $5,500. He likely has the best projected target share for any player with a salary lower than $6,200. Typically, he'd come with the downside where using him bars you from using Kelce. But with running back being a bit weaker, I'm open to using both -- or pumping Kittle in one of those slots -- and flexing a tight end.

The one guy who could push Higbee for a high target share among the values is Brandon Aiyuk; there's just less value there given how run-heavy the team is.

Still, Aiyuk is at 67.6 yards per game with the 49ers in their current state. He goose-egged last week (his lone catch was a fumble and then later overturned), so we've still got that bad taste in our mouths. This time, though, the 49ers are playing indoors against a much faster offense than the Green Bay Packers. That should inflate play volume for the 49ers, which benefits everybody. In the Week 18 matchup, Aiyuk turned 7 targets into 107 yards.

For me, Aiyuk is definitively below Higgins among the value receivers. If we lop off Higgins, though, Aiyuk is either first or second, battling with Boyd for the top slot. His yardage output puts him above Pringle for me and keeps Aiyuk in the conversation despite last week's dud.

If you want to toss Beckham into the value discussion, he's well behind Higgins for me, even though Higgins' salary is just $100 higher. A quick-and-easy explanation comes from each player's receiving yardage prop over at NFL odds.

PlayerReceiving Yardage Prop
Tee Higgins70.5
George Kittle52.5
Odell Beckham50.5
Brandon Aiyuk49.5
Tyler Boyd39.5
Tyler Higbee39.5
Byron Pringle37.5
CJ Uzomah36.5

The discussion is obviously more nuanced than this as touchdowns matter, too. But Beckham's juicy role near the goal line has masked the fact that he hasn't had more than 81 receiving yards in any game with the Rams. When he doesn't score, he's not paying off his $6,300 salary. Higgins has 96-plus yards 5 times in that same stretch, so to me, the two aren't even in the same tier. Beckham's closer to the tight ends and guys like Aiyuk and Boyd.

With regards to the studs here -- Kupp and Samuel -- I'll have a hard time prioritizing them over Hill, Kelce, and Chase in the other game. The reasoning is the same as discussed at quarterback: game environment. Kupp and Samuel have higher salaries than the other three, but they come in a likely lower-scoring game.

To me, I'd rather minimize salary allocation to this game to allow myself more exposure to the first game. I can feel fine saving salary here with guys like Akers, Aiyuk, Kittle, and Higbee, but in terms of where I want to spend my ever-valuable salary buckaroos, I want the bulk of it in Bengals versus Chiefs. This will be the more chalk way to play things, so there is incentive to stack this game instead. But even considering that, I'm still inclined to go harder at the AFC game, which will inherently make me lower on two really fun receivers here.