FanDuel Daily Fantasy Football Helper: Conference Championships
This is our final multi-game slate of the year. Things start at 3 p.m. EST with the NFC title game between the Philadelphia Eagles (-2.5) and San Francisco 49ers. The second game gets going at 6:30 p.m., and it's a repeat of last year's AFC Championship as the Kansas City Chiefs (-1.0) host the Cincinnati Bengals.
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.
There's a clear three-man top tier at quarterback -- Jalen Hurts ($9,200), Joe Burrow ($8,300) and Patrick Mahomes ($8,500). The vast majority of people are going to use one of these three in their quarterback slot.
Considering salary and matchup, Burrow might wind up as the slate's most popular quarterback. He's coming off a nice showing in a difficult game -- in terms of both matchup and weather -- at the Buffalo Bills, and the Chiefs are a much softer landing spot. Our schedule-adjusted metrics rank Kansas City as the league's 11th-worst defense, and they've surrendered the second-most FanDuel points per game to quarterbacks (20.2). Burrow comes with two high-ceiling stacking partners at receiver, and we project him to score 20.0 FanDuel points.
Hurts is appealing in any matchup due to his elite dual-threat ability. There's no denying how tough of a spot this is for him, though. The Niners' defense is the second-best in the league by our numbers and has held quarterbacks to only 14.7 FanDuel points per game, tied for the fifth-fewest. They've also allowed the fifth-fewest rushing yards to the position.
However, I don't think that'll lower Hurts' popularity all that much, nor should it. Our model has him projected for the most rushing touchdowns (0.54) on the slate among all players -- including running backs -- and we also peg him to run for 50.9 rushing yards. He's our QB1 for the slate at a projection of 22.8 FanDuel points. The biggest decision to make regarding Hurts is whether or not you think he's worth the extra salary compared to Mahomes and Burrow.
Mahomes' health seems to be trending in the right direction. All reports have been positive, and if it stays that way, we can be pretty confident in rostering him. The betting market reflects the positive news as KC has gone from a 1.5-point 'dog to a 1.0-point favorite. It should be all systems go for Mahomes, who we project for 19.9 FanDuel points, just a bit behind Hurts and Burrow.
For me, as long as the reports on Mahomes' health continue to be positive, deciding who to plug in at quarterback comes down to their expected popularity. If one of them is expected to see a lower draft percentage than the other two, I'll try to be overweight on the least popular of the three. If it seems like all three with be similarly chalky, I'll mostly take the salary savings with Mahomes and Burrow.
Brock Purdy ($6,900) is a low-salary dart throw. He's been a fantastic story, and maybe he'll light up the Eagles on Sunday. But it's a brutal matchup. Philly permitted the fifth-fewest FanDuel points per game to quarterbacks (14.7) and ranks as the league's best pass D, according to our metrics. Although the salary savings are enticing, Purdy isn't worth the risk in my eyes. He's averaging only 14.0 FanDuel points per game for the year and projects for 14.6.
I think Christian McCaffrey ($9,000) is a key decision point on the slate.
If you want CMC, his salary necessitates you'll have to make sacrifices elsewhere. There are obviously reasons to be into him, and he paces the position with a projection of 16.3 FanDuel points. We know what he can do, and Philly is a run-funnel defense. But there are also reasons to be wary of him, and that's the way I lean.
Not only is CMC dealing with a calf ailment, his volume hasn't been the same since Elijah Mitchell ($5,600) returned. McCaffrey has logged snap rates of 74% and 67% through two postseason games, and he's had opportunity counts (targets plus carries) of 18 and 17. That's still a nice workload, but it's not quite elite. While Philly is a run-funnel defense, CMC could suffer if the Eagles have a tough time moving the ball and keeping drives alive. But, for me, what it really comes down to is I'd rather spend big salary at receiver.
Joe Mixon ($8,100) has some warts in his profile -- namely lousy snap rates of 45% and 56% in two playoff games -- but he's getting the ball when he's on the field, totaling 23 and 15 opportunities across the last two weeks. Our metrics have Kansas City as the 12th-worst run defense, and they gave up the 2nd-most targets, most receptions and 4th-most receiving yards to backs in the regular season. Mixon tagged KC for 115 total yards on 24 opportunities in last season's AFC title game (he missed this year's regular-season meeting). We have him scoring 14.4 FanDuel points.
Miles Sanders ($6,200) and Kansas City's duo of Jerick McKinnon ($6,500) and Isiah Pacheco ($6,300) are the other backs we project for double-digit FanDuel points. Each of them comes with pros and cons.
Philly ran it pretty much at will on the New York Giants last week, yet Sanders played only 40% of the snaps with Kenneth Gainwell ($5,400) getting a 37% snap rate. Ugh. And San Fran has given up the fewest points per game to running backs (14.0). The Niners have allowed the third-most targets to running backs, but that suits Gainwell more than Sanders as Sanders hasn't been targeted more than once in a game in any of his last five contests, seeing three total looks in that span.
The Kansas City backs are much more attractive in my eyes. McKinnon is still leading the way in snaps, playing 65% of them in the Divisional Round, and he was the back on the field late when the Chiefs were trying to churn clock. While he didn't see a target last week, McKinnon has games of eight, six and nine targets across his past six outings.
As for Pacheco, he was excellent against the Jacksonville Jaguars, rumbling for 95 yards on 12 carries. He has slightly better anytime touchdown odds than McKinnon (+145 to +160), per the NFL odds at FanDuel Sportsbook. He just isn't seeing the field as much (35% snap rate last week) and would likely become an afterthought if Kansas City is forced into pass-heavy mode.
It's a good slate to take a shot on one (or more, if you want) of the aforementioned backups -- Mitchell, Perine and Gainwell. All three have my attention as serviceable value picks. The salary savings are handy, and they have decent roles.
As I mentioned a minute ago, the KC defense has struggled to contain running backs in the passing game, and that's Perine's bread and butter. He recorded five targets last week in what was a positive game script throughout. Perine makes some sense, especially if you think the Bengals lose.
Gainwell is in a similar situation as teams have tried to attack San Francisco's top-tier defense by targeting running backs through the air. Gainwell played just two fewer snaps than Sanders did last week, although the lopsided score was likely part of the reason for that. He has, however, logged a snap rate of at least 37% in three of the last five games. As of early in the week, draft percentage projections around the industry have Gainwell seeing a single-digit draft percentage. Color me intrigued.
Mitchell is the opposite of those two, seeing most of his work on the ground. That fits well for a matchup against a Philadelphia run defense that sits sixth from the bottom in our metrics. Mitchell got in on 33% of the snaps last week and correlates well in lineups that fade CMC.
For a two-game slate, the receiver position is pretty stout. I've got four guys -- Ja'Marr Chase ($8,600), A.J. Brown ($8,000), DeVonta Smith ($7,700) and Tee Higgins ($6,700) -- I want to be overweight on.
Starting with the Philly pair, the way to attack the 49ers' D is through the air, and that's what offenses have been doing all year long. While San Fran is a good pass defense (third-best by our numbers), the Niners have permitted the sixth-most FanDuel points per game to wideouts (30.0).
Smith has emerged down the stretch, racking up 43 targets over the past four games. Brown, meanwhile, has 33 targets in that time, including a quiet 6-target game in the Divisional Round. AJB could go off at any moment, though. Both are top plays, and we project Brown and Smith for 12.5 and 12.1 FanDuel points, respectively.
The Bengals' duo is just as appealing. Kansas City has given up the seventh-most FanDuel points per game to receivers (29.6). Chase -- who spearheads the position at a projection of 15.0 FanDuel points -- is on fire lately, putting up at least 13.2 FanDuel points in six of his past seven games. In that span, he's got five tuddies but has topped 86 yards just once.
Assuming Chase is chalk, I love the idea of pivoting to Higgins. He's taken a back seat to Chase in recent games, notching only 10 targets over the last two weeks, including 4 against the Bills. But Higgins is capable of huge outings and could come through this week. Our model has him scoring 10.2 FanDuel points.
Deebo Samuel ($7,000) also projects well by our numbers as we have him posting 12.4 FanDuel points. If CMC is less than 100%, it could lead to more carries for Samuel against a beatable Eagles run defense. He's a threat to score on any play and has handled nine and eight touches in the postseason, including seven total carries.
You can make cases for Brandon Aiyuk ($6,000) and JuJu Smith-Schuster ($6,100) at their very reasonable salaries, but outside of the five guys I've talked about, the receiver I'm most interested in is Kadarius Toney ($5,600). Toney's snap rate was only 29% last week, his lowest since Week 15, but the Chiefs made it a priority to get him involved, targeting him seven times and giving him one carry. Toney has big-play ability and is a great source of cap relief.
Marquez Valdes-Scantling ($5,100) and Tyler Boyd ($5,600) also deserve a mention. MVS hasn't gone for more than 28 yards since Week 15, but he has an average depth of target of 13.9 yards for the season. He could get into the optimal if he hits for a long score. Although Boyd has cracked double-digit FanDuel points just one time since Week 9, he usually plays a lot of snaps (90% and 71% the last two weeks).
Tight end is pretty dang good considering the size of the slate, and you can justify using two of them, meaning one would be at flex.
Travis Kelce ($8,500) is the belle of the ball, and he's a priority for me. We project Kelce for 15.5 FanDuel points. Not only is that nearly double the projection of any other tight end, it's the second-most points among all non-quarterbacks, trailing only CMC, and Kelce is the best point-per-dollar play of that group. Mahomes targeted Kelce relentlessly last week, peppering the star tight end with 17 looks. Kelce's floor/ceiling combination is outstanding, and he's -105 to score a touchdown. The only hurdle is finding the salary.
Hurst really stands out at his salary. He's seen five, six and six targets the last three games, with both of the six-target outings coming in the playoffs. Tight ends have scored 10.1 FanDuel points per game against Kansas City, the 13th-most.
Noah Gray ($4,400) is the only other tight end we have projected for more than 0.5 FanDuel points, and our model projects him for just 3.3. He's played at least 50% of the snaps in every game since Week 11, so he's not a terrible dart throw at a touchdown. He's scored just one time all year, though, and is +650 to do so Sunday.