DraftKings NFL Playoffs DFS: Roster Construction
DraftKings Wildcard Playoff Picks & Advice
If you are reading this, then you are like me and can’t get enough NFL DFS action. The playoffs make it tougher for DFS for many reasons: smaller slates, teams tend to play tighter and sometimes more conservative, the player pool is far more reduced than any other main slate leaving petty much any good play as chalk. There are various approaches to take when constructing rosters in the NFL’s second season. Preferably, we want to roster all optimal plays, but that means we’re likely going to have rosters that look like everyone else’s. If we’re playing several line-ups, it’s fine to have some chalky rosters. Ideally, you want a core of players to build around and try to combo that group in as many ways as possible to maximize your exposure to the entire (relevant) player pool. You could even have some burner line-ups that more than likely won’t cash, but if things go a little weird, you might have a roster construction that no one else has – or at least only a few others have.
Above is the match-up chart for the 4 games this week. It’s what has accompanied the Chalk, Pivots, and Punts series this year, but this week I’ve added a column for the average of plays allowed by each team’s opponent so we can get get a better idea of about how many plays we can expect each team to run. Volume increases opportunity for fantasy points, so teams like the Ravens and Colts will likely have players that pace the slate in pass attempts, carries, and targets. Then there are the more efficient teams like Seattle and Philly that don’t produce an abundance of opportunities but have players with high points per opportunity. Below is a projection chart I ran using blended data, modified somewhat by predictions for game scripts, and displays the projected pass and run attempts along with projected yards (passing/rushing).
Here is a chart showing where the team defenses are allowing targets, grouped by all RBs, WR positions split out and grouped, and all TEs.
Let’s walk through the slate, look at match-ups, and look for the types of plays that could get us to the top of GPPs this week.
Indianapolis Colts (23.75/+1) at Houston Texans (24.75/-1) [48.5]
These two teams played twice in the regular season already, so we have some indicators on how this game might go. Indy threw the ball 62 and 41 times in these games and ran it 17 and 23 times. I am projecting 43 passes and 20 runs from the Colts in this game for 323 passing yards and 68 rushing. That puts Andrew Luck ($6400) as the top passer by volume on the slate. The Texans allow the second lowest yards on the ground and points to the RB position as a whole for this slate, and they allow the lowest YPC. In addition, the Texans have allowed an average yards per carry of 2.4 over their last 4 games, so Luck should be busy here. Where team tends to have success against the Texans is in the passing game and in particular the #1 WR and the TE. T.Y. Hilton ($7800) has made a career out of roasting the Texans for 100+ yards games, and Eric Ebron ($5200) was targeted a total of 26 times in his two meetings with the Texans this year, catching 9 of those targets for 105 yards and 2 TDs. With a weak TE pool to pick from this week, Ebron might end up as the highest owned TE on the slate.
All three of Luck, Hilton, Ebron will be popular, so if looking for a pivot in this offense, I’d look at either Dontrelle Inman ($4300), Chester Rogers ($3300), or Nyheim Hines ($3500). Inman is generally around 4-6 targets per game, but could see more if the Texans sell out to stop Hilton and Ebron. He didn’t play in either game vs the Texans this year, so they don’t have the same feel for him as they do the rest of the Colts WRs. Looking at where the Texans are funneling targets at home indicates the #1 WR and Slot are the two to target in DFS. The Colts have rotated guys through the slot all year, with T.Y. Hilton seeing plenty of snaps there. If they utilize more of Hilton in the slot for this game, that would put Inman in the #1 WR role on the outside. Chester Rogers is on the radar here as a punt play. His numbers against the Texans were pretty good this year, keeping in mind he was not competing with Inman for snaps and targets in those games. His stat line vs the Texans this year totals 17 targets for 13 catches, 121 yards. and no TDs. He runs the majority of his routes from the slot (90%), making him the preferred slot option if they keep Hilton and Inman outside in this game. Hines saw 11 targets in the first match-up last against the Texans, which was without Mack. Then, Hines saw 5 targets in the most recent match-up, this time with Mack in the line-up. Hines caught two TDs in that first game without Mack, but only put up 4.7 points in the second meeting. Hines is high risk but should see the majority of passing down work, especially if the Colts find themselves down on the scoreboard.
Deshaun Watson ($6700) had 38 or more pass attempts 5 times this season, two of those games were against the Colts. Watson ran the ball another 11 times in those games, adding to what his projected volume could be here. I’ve got Watson projected for another 38 passes for 296 yards, and 5 carries for 38 yards. That would equal 15.64 points in yardage, with opportunity for 2 to 3 TDs and a possible 300-yard passing bonus on DK. Watson and Luck are the top two QBs on this slate and will see top 2 ownership. The Colts were pretty tough on RBs, and only 3 went for over 20 points against them this year (White, Drake, Fournette). Lamar Miller ($4900) had a pretty solid game last time facing this defense (16 points), seeing a season-high 6 targets and scoring on a rushing TD. He’s not an optimal play for this slate but will be low owned enough that if he does crack 20 and some of the other higher owned guys stall out, he’ll help you surge past the rest of the field. The Colts allow a lot of passes to the RBs (9.5 tar/g to RBs on the road, 27.2% share of all targets), and if Miller gets the snap share he saw in that last game against the Colts (71%) and/or the last game of the season (83%), he’s in for a workhorse role with reception potential to boost his floor.
DeAndre Hopkins ($8700) will undoubtedly be chalk for this slate. He had uneven results against this Colts defense in their two meetings this year, scoring 35.9 in Indy, but only 13.6 in Houston. If we remove the 35.9 game, Hopkins has averaged 13.9 points in his other 4 meeting with the Colts over the last three years. Will Fuller was available in 3 of those games, and he wasn’t stealing his points, the Colts just have a knack for slowing Nuk down – except for that game in Indy this year. If you want to fade one of the superstars of this slate, this might be the one to do that with. Of course, multi-entry we do not want to fully fade this type of talent, instead perhaps, just reduce some of our exposure. Fellow Gridiron Expert Derek Brown (@DBro_FFB) posted some great data on Twitter regarding Keke Coutee ($4000) and his chances of having a huge game here. It’ll be interesting to see how Houston deploys him. He’s usually lined up in the slot when Houston goes 3 WRs, which based on the personnel tendencies used by the Texans when they have 3 healthy WRs, we should see plenty of 11 personnel, and Coutee in the slot where Indy has allowed a 17.5% target share when on the road (5.8 targets per game). That is the second highest target share allowed for the WR positions, with the #1 WR seeing 19.1% (6.4 targets per game). In the 4 games Coutee has been able to start and finish this year, he has seen 9 targets per game, which is aided by a 15 target game against Indy in week 4, the same game Hopkins had his 35.9 point game, Coutee scored 24.7 in that game.
Seattle Seahawks (21.0/+1.5) at Dallas Cowboys (22.5/-1.5) [43.5]
This game will be a rematch of a week 3 game that resulted in both teams having a 1-2 record, except this time the venue changes. Both teams have similar philosophies on offense. They want to run the ball as much as they can and rely on their offensive line to win the battles in the trenches to wear down the defense. Both teams had a 100-yard rusher in the previous meeting, and both RBs are top options for this slate. Chris Carson ($6800) is priced 3rd on the RB list this week and should see heavy volume in this game. Carson carried the ball 32 times against Dallas in Seattle back in week 3 and saw 2 targets, accounting for 52% of the total offensive opportunities in that game. I have Carson projected for 27 carries and 2 targets here, for around 105 total yards. Assuming he catches both targets, that is baseline of 15.5 DK points with TD upside.
For Seattle’s passing game, I don’t expect a ton of throws unless this one gets away from them. Russell Wilson ($5700) should get about 26 balls in the air for around 200 yards passing. Wilson doesn’t run much anymore, so we would have to think he’s going to throw for 3 or more TDs (and more than 200 yards) to surpass Luck or Watson in scoring for this slate. However, his price is the 5th lowest of the 8 starting QBs, and if we can get 20 points out of Wilson for that price and Luck/Watson only get around 23-25 points each, then we could potentially use that savings to bolster the other positions on our rosters. If looking for a WR to pair Wilson with, it’s got to be Doug Baldwin ($6200) or Tyler Lockett ($5300). Dallas is allowing their most targets to funnel to the WR1, where Baldwin will be in 2 WR sets. However, Seattle’s primary personnel grouping is “11” (3-WRs), which will shift Baldwin into the slot and allow Lockett to function as the #1 WR on the outside where 8.4 targets per game have been attempted in Dallas against their defense, compared to 6.1 to the slot. Dallas doesn’t allow for many big plays in the passing game, so I would look more at Baldwin here for the reliable, quick option who should see the majority of the targets.
For Dallas, it all starts with Ezekiel Elliott ($9000) who gets the $9k treatment for this slate but will still be the highest owned player on the slate. The only thing that will prevent Zeke from being the top RB this week will be an injury. In the meeting between these team in Seattle, Zeke ran for 7.9 yards per carry amassing 127 rushing yards on 16 carries. He also saw 8 targets and caught 3 for just 11 yards. This game was played before the Cowboys really figured out how to use Zeke in the passing game and allowed him to lead the team with 95 targets, so the sky is the limit for him here. Zeke should handle around 20-22 carries and see about 5 or 6 targets (On the road, Seattle allows 7.8 targets per game to RBs) for around 100 yards rushing, and around 4 or 5 receptions for another 35-40. The floor of those projections puts Zeke at 20.5 DK points before TDs. He has legit 30+ point upside here.
Dak Prescott ($5500) was not good in that game in Seattle, completing only 56% of his 34 passes for 168 yards, a TD, and took 5 sacks. I’ve got him at 33 passes for 248 yards here, with opportunity to pick up another 20+ on the ground. If Dak limits mistakes and doesn’t take sacks, the Cowboys should be able to stay on schedule and move the ball against the Seattle defense. Dak will go low owned, so if we look at his passing/rushing yardage projection at around 11.92 – there isn’t much room for huge upside. However, he went bonkers against the Giants defense last week. He’s not a priority play, but if building multiple rosters, you’re probably going to use all 8 QBs in one way or another, and you’ll get a chance to pass the Luck/Watson rosters if Dak smashes again. The Cowboys trade for Amari Cooper ($7500) was a major boost to their entire offense, and he’ll be the primary read for Dak on most pass plays in this one. The Seahawks saw Cooper once already this year when he was targeted only once and didn’t catch the pass as a Raider. Over the course of the year, Seattle has allowed 8 targets per game to the #1 WR and 16.6 points per game. Cooper is in a pretty good spot here comparative to the rest of the slate. Cooper lead Dallas in both target share and market share of air yards, total receiving yards, and receiving TDs this season. Expect that type of opportunity to roll into the post-season. Looking at where Seattle allows targets to funnel shows 50% of the offense (25% each) will roll through the RB position and the #1 WR. It’s a punt, but you could look to the secondary receiving options for Dallas with Michael Gallup ($3600) and Cole Beasley ($3500), but these are just low owned lottery tickets if they hit.
Los Angeles Chargers (19.5/+2.5) at Baltimore Ravens (22.0/-2.5) [41.5]
This is the third and final rematch of a regular season game in the playoffs. Baltimore stifled the Chargers offense in their game in LA 2 weeks ago. Melvin Gordon ($7700) scored the most of any Charger with 14.4 DK points. Gordon is an elite back, priced as the second most expensive back and appears to draw the least favorable match-up on the slate. This will lead to him going low owned. For the most part all of the Chargers skill players appear to be on the wrong side of the match-ups, and will likely be the lowest owned offense on the slate. Game theory says to roster these guys in case Phillip Rivers ($5900) can somehow will the team to not only win the game, but put up the type of offensive numbers Baker Mayfield and the Browns did in the final week of the season when Baltimore was still fighting for their playoff positioning. Keenan Allen ($6900) will likely be the highest owned of any LA player. Mike Williams ($4700) might catch some extra ownership at his salary, too. I wouldn’t go too far down the roster here, but having some exposure to LA will give you some contrarian upside.
The Ravens strength is also the Chargers greatest vulnerability – the run game. I expect Mornhinweg to fully exploit this. Lamar Jackson ($5800) set the single season record for most rush attempts by a QB in a seasons, and didn’t even play the full year. He led his own team in rush attempts, which is less impressive considering how they were cycling through RBs by the half way point of the year, but still he ran the ball 17 times for 79 yards per game in his 7 starts. That’s unheard of in modern football. It should be noted that LA held him to his lowest rushing total of the season with 39 yards. That pretty much sets his floor for this game. If Jackson hits his 7 game average of 23 pass attempts for 159 passing yards and the aforementioned 39 rushing yards, his floor starts at 10.26. That’s not that great, but it does increase by 1 point per every 10 additional rushing yards he gets. LA will potentially be without Mebane in the middle of the DL, which could help him achieve a rushing total closer to his 79-yard average. Should he hit is average, we’re starting with 14.26 points before TDs.
Baltimore’s RB rotation is maddening for DFS. Gus Edwards ($4200) and Kenny Dixon ($4000) alternate who gets the most snaps, but Edwards always gets the most carries – until last week when they were equally distributed. What makes it more of a headache is Ty Montgomery ($3100) continuing to get more involved. He’s third in snap percentage but was pretty close to Dixon’s total last week. TyMont sees the least amount of opportunity, but will usually be the only back to see more than 1 target. Edwards is the only one that sees consistent goal line work, but Dixon gets an occasional touch down there, too. The Chargers allow 9.6 targets per game to the RB position, so TyMont is in play as a punt option. The best approach for this backfield is to use all three spread out into several line-ups. That way if any one of them goes off, you’ll have some exposure. Just have to hope it’s on the right roster if they do. The Ravens passing game is a full fade, except for TE Mark Andrews ($3500) due to the lack of other solid options at the position this week. LA is allowing the most targets to TEs on the slate, and Andrews is the top pass catching TE on the Ravens and is third on the team in receptions since Jackson became the starting QB with 13 catches. Willie Snead ($3700) has 17. Snead will also be a low owned punt play, but will also be low volume and less likely to catch a TD than Andrews.
Philadelphia Eagles (17.25/+6.5) at Chicago Bears (23.75/-6.5) 
This is the only game of the four that does not feature a rematch of opponents from the regular season. Perhaps that unfamiliarity will help the offenses a bit. These were two of the best run defenses in the league this year, and the match-up chart and target data indicates the balls will be flying in this one. Nick Foles ($5400) will be a reasonable play for multi-entry stuff, but I don’t see his chances of outscoring Luck/Watson in a January road game in Chicago as high enough to bet on with a single line-up. My projection for Foles is 41 passes for 286 yards and not enough on the ground to matter. That puts him at 11.44 points before TDs. He’ll need to throw 3 TDs to get over the 20 point mark, which is possible, but he’s not a high probability to reach 30+ points. I do like his receivers though. Chicago is allowing yards and targets outside, due to their strengths defending the run and the middle of the field. The Bears strength in the middle will be why I fade the Philly backs this week, but they are in play if you’re looking for super low owned contrarian type plays.
Alshon Jeffery ($5900) and Nelson Agholor ($3800) should be in good position to return solid value on their salaries, especially Agholor. Chicago is allowing the highest number of targets on the slate to each of the three main WR positions (WR1, WR2, Slot). Jeffery is the WR1 and Agholor is the WR2 and will occasionally run routes out of the Slot. The Eagles have shifted to using more “21” personnel lately, which is getting Dallas Goedert ($2600) on the field more, at Golden Tate’s ($4200) expense. If you’re looking to completely punt at TE, Goedert is the guy. He has seen at least 3 targets in 6 of his last 7 games (most was 5) and has been on the field for around 60% of the snaps over the last 4. Chicago is the toughest defense on TEs for this slate, so he carries some risk, but with Jeffery, Agholor, Ertz, and Sproles commanding coverage, he could be the guy who breaks off a big play for 10-11 points with a long TD catch. Zach Ertz ($6400) is the most talented TE on the slate, but is in the worst match-up by position. If Philly splits Ertz out into the slot, he could take on those “targets allowed” and come away with a pretty solid game. The way TE looks this week, a pretty solid game should be enough to win the position. The concern is paying up that high for it if you think you can get a pretty solid game somewhere else, or decide to punt at TE.
The match-up chart for the Eagles defense indicates teams don’t try to run on them, but when they do, they can actually have some success. Chicago has gone to a more heavy run look heading down the stretch of the season, and Jordan Howard ($4600) has been having much better success than he did earlier in the year and is averaging 81 yards and 1 TD per game over the final four regular-season games. The Bears will look to continue pounding the rock for as long as they can and keep Mitch Trubisky ($6200) from having to do too much. Howard has the lowest salary of the main “usable” RBs for this slate, so getting him into a few line-ups will help with salary relief and he’ll probably be the lowest owned of the group. The Philly defense allows the most targets to the RB position on the slate, and Tarik Cohen ($5400) is the Bears best chess piece. Kamara, Yeldon, McCaffrey, and Dion Lewis are some RBs that are primarily used for their pass catching chops that the Eagles have faced this year, and they have allowed a range of 14 to 18 points to those guys, which is about where I see Cohen’s range of outcomes here. If it weren’t for the outside coverage, I would consider Cohen a lock for 20+ points, but the way the Eagles play, they’re going to allow passes to be caught by the outside WRs as well.
The Eagle cornerback situation is down to practice squad players and street free agents. They’re playing okay, but the scheme of the defense allows for stuff to get completed in front of them and then they make the tackle. This is what the Bears do anyway. Their receivers all have low aDOT, and this is where I think a guy like Taylor Gabriel ($4500) can come through for a big play if he gets between his corner and safety for a catch and run type play. Allen Robinson ($5600) is an okay play based on his volume, but the chances of him breaking a big play seem lower than Gabriel’s or even Cohen’s. Trey Burton ($4400) doesn’t get a favorable match-up against the second tightest defense on the slate vs TEs. He’s a reasonable play if trying to get exposure to all TEs through multiple lineups, but he’s not an optimal play with Malcolm Jenkins sitting back there in coverage.
I would expect a lot of DFS players to stack individual games this week, and focus primarily on the Colts/Texans game if playing only 1 or a few. Getting it right on the low owned plays, or stacking what appears to be an ugly game on paper may be the way to get to the top if Indy/Houston somehow turns into a defensive battle and there are some upsets in the other games. The optimal lineup without regard to game theory will be either Luck or Watson at QB, Zeke and Cohen (and/or Carson) at RB, WRs from the first and last game, and Ebron at TE. But “on paper” the optimal line-up usually doesn’t win the GPPs, so think outside the box. Create unusual stacks. Use high-end talent in bad match-ups. Make multiple line-ups and try to cover as much as possible. Good luck this week, and thanks for reading!