DraftKings NFL Playoffs: DFS Roster Construction
DraftKings NFL Playoffs: Divisional Round
Welcome to another week of NFL Playoff DFS. With there still being 4 games on the slate, there is enough to breakdown and determine what type of plays we should target for DFS rosters this week. As we noted last week, 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 narrow 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. 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. You can find these charts on a Google Sheet here.
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 (26.0/+5.5) at Kansas City Chiefs (31.5/-5.5) [57.5]
With an implied total this high (especially compared to last week’s games), this game is going to attract a ton of ownership. The QBs here will be top 3 in ownership percentage, and the remaining weapons will be popular across all rosters – even those not specifically stacking this game. The Colts have shown a tendency this season to game plan around attacking their opponent’s weaknesses, and for KC that’s going to mean a heavy does of Marlon Mack ($5800). Teams that have gone into Arrowhead this year and kept the game close all had 25 or more carries in the game and a 53%:47% Pass: Run ratio. This sample includes the 49ers, Broncos, Cardinals, Ravens, and the Chargers (without MG3). The results of this commitment to running the ball did not necessarily produce wins for all these teams, but they did rack up an average of 154.8 rushing yards in those 5 games, including three of those teams gaining 179 or more yards on the ground. Mack surprised last week hammering the Texans stingy run defense for 148 rushing yards and controlled 79% of the RB snaps for the Colts. He’s in a prime spot to eat again here.
The Colts passing game will be heavily focused on as well, but I’m more bullish on Mack than the passing weapons, though we will certainly need to have exposure to every angle of this game. Last week, I suggested the superstar to go underweight on for the slate was DeAndre Hopkins. This week, I’m suggesting reducing exposure to T.Y. Hilton ($6700). Hilton’s splits for away and outdoors games create some concern. Also, I have concerns Hilton’s ankle injury may be more severe than we’re aware of. It seemed like his usage against Houston was a clue into his health. The Colts came into that game wanting to establish him early, targeting him 4 times for 63 of his 85 yards on that first drive so that the Texans would focus their coverage on him. He seemed to mostly be a decoy the rest of the game, seeing 6 more targets for 22 yards over the next 55 minutes with only one catch after halftime. His clown mask antics may have been an additional charade to get the Texans goat and bring their attention to shutting him down while he played a decoy role. His practice reports will be interesting to keep an eye on this week. If Hilton is again relegated to playing a decoy type role here, that puts more emphasis on getting Eric Ebron ($5500) and Dontrelle Inman ($4800) involved, and perhaps Chester Rogers ($3700) will see another 5 (or more) targets. With the Colts having control of the Texans game early, the trio of Ebron, Inman, and Rogers only totaled 15 targets. That’s going to increase if this game lives up to the implied total. Andrew Luck ($6200) only needed to throw the ball 32 times last week. A boost in volume seems likely here, but I still expect a somewhat balanced attack with Luck getting about 39 pass attempts off for around 278 yards. For the Colts to win this game, they’re going to need to stay balanced, use a quick passing attack to avoid sacks thus setting the offense back, and try to control as much clock as possible.
Pat Mahomes ($7000) is probably going to be the highest owned QB on the slate. I am assuming a lot of people will be excited to use him in his first playoff game in what appears on paper to be a shootout. If this game flows the way my projections indicate, he may be worth paying all the way up for at QB this week. The projections have him leading the slate in passing yards with 291, which is within reach of that 300-yard bonus for DK. If Mahomes reaches the bonus, he’ll only need to throw 2 TDs to hit 20 points. There may be other places to get 20 points, or at least close to it enough that it makes sense to pay down and use the savings elsewhere, but Mahomes should lead the slate in QB points. You’ll need to make good decisions on the rest of the roster if you’re going to fade Mahomes in a small batch of line-ups, or for single entry GPPs.
Mahomes has a concentrated arsenal to work with. His top two targets for the year are Tyreek Hill ($7400) and Travis Kelce ($7000), with each receiving over 23% of the target share. These should be his primary resources again here, with Kelce likely to lead in targets and Hill always a possibility to break a huge play for a TD. Another 20% or more of the targets could go toward the RBs based on the way the Chiefs targeted RBs down the stretch, and due to the Colts (on the road) allowing the highest percentage of targets to RBs on the slate. Sammy Watkins ($4500) could be back for this one, and would be a welcomed addition to the target tree if he’s available. Mahomes will need all the playmakers he can get in this one.
Looking at Andy Reid’s play-calling tendencies with the Chiefs, he has been predominantly a pass-first game planner, but the last two years have not seen an abundance of offensive plays. With the Colts having a pretty tough pass defense, the run could become more of a factor for his team this year. Those high pass ratios got Reid’s Chiefs bounced from the playoffs previously, three out of four were one and done visits to the post-season. Spencer Ware ($4500) appears likely to play in this game, but his effectiveness may be questionable. The Chiefs leaned on Damien Williams ($5100) to close out the season. The Chiefs RBs did not carry the ball very often since the week 12 bye week, so they offer dicey upside here in GPPs. Based on the usage of the backs during the season, it appears Ware could handle more of the early down work and 3rd down pass-protection snaps if he plays. Ware could see close to 10 carries and 3 to 5 targets, but he lacks explosiveness and will be limited in the amount of yardage to expect. Williams could be the better bet among the RB group, and is likely to see 10 carries and maybe 5 to 6 targets for a bit more yardage than we can expect from Ware. We don’t have much of an overlapping sample of Ware and Williams together, but season-long data indicates they really like Williams in the red zone, which would increase his value should that continue into the postseason. With neither back projectable for heavy volume, we probably don’t want to get over-exposed to this backfield, but a gamble on Williams is worth it in a few line-ups.
Dallas Cowboys (21.25/+7) at Los Angeles Rams (28.25/-7) [49.5]
The key for the Dallas offense is Ezekiel Elliott ($8200), who is in a pretty good spot here. Six of the last eight teams the Rams faced in LA had a RB score more than 16 points against them (Seahawks had 2 in the same game, so 7 RBs total). Peel away another layer and it reveals 4 of 8 RBs who went to LA scored 18 or more points against this defense. Of those 4 who scored 18+, we’re talking guys like Alfred Morris, Wendell Smallwood, Mike Davis, and Kareem Hunt. Only one of those guys is in Zeke’s class athletically. Zeke should have a very productive day and he is game-script independent. No matter what the score scenario is, Zeke will touch the ball. The Cowboys would prefer it if he is grinding clock and keeping that Ram offense off the field, of course. Dak Prescott ($5200) has 7 rushing TDs this season (including last week’s playoff game), and is becoming an attractive buy-low option in this game. He has the mobility and strength to either run away from or wiggle his way out of that DL pressure he’s sure to see. The Cowboys can scheme him to roll out a bit and change the launch point of his passes to get away from pressure as well. Dak has some pretty good options to work with and this offense seems to be hitting it’s stride.
The Rams have had trouble stopping the opposing #1 outside WR at home, and have allowed a range of 17 to 43 points to #1 WRs, averaging 18.8 points per game in 7 out of 8 home games (ARI was the dud). In total, 6 WRs have scored over 20 points against this defense, with Tyler Lockett just missing at 19.5 or it would be 7. This seems to put Amari Cooper ($6500) in a great spot to produce here. Cooper has 4 or more receptions in 7 straight games and 9 out of 10 as a Cowboy. A risky yet intriguing play will be Michael Gallup ($4000). The Cowboys seem to be using him similar to the way the Chargers use Mike Williams. He’s getting red zone looks and they are attempting to hit him downfield for chunk gains when they think the defense is getting too close to the line of scrimmage. Gallup saw the second most targets on the team behind Cooper last week and has back to back 6 target games. At his price point, he’s certainly worth mixing into a few lineups in case one of those big plays hit. Cole Beasley ($3700) appears to be heading for a game-time decision, and if he doesn’t play that may open up an opportunity for Tavon Austin ($3000) to get some actionable snaps. Austin is a minimum priced lottery play with a former employer narrative and has punt return duties to add to his potential touches, though he would need to return a punt for a TD for those to count for anything. Noah Brown ($3000) would also be on the radar with Beasley out. He’s also minimum priced, but he actually saw 4 targets last week with Beasley on the sidelines since the opening series. He’s a bigger bodied receiver that looked a little bit like a TE when I saw him in the game last week. Due to the lack of options at TE, we have to consider Blake Jarwin ($3400), if he plays. He’s a middling option but does not carry a huge salary, and LA has allowed some big games to the TE position this year, though they were to elite TEs like Kittle, Kelce, and Cook. Lesser talents such as Ben Watson and Levine Toilolo scored 15 and 13 respectively against the Rams as well, so Jarwin could be a factor.
The most creative/prolific offenses Dallas’ defense saw during the regular season were Philadelphia (twice), New Orleans, Indianapolis, and Tampa Bay. They held those teams to an average of 19.2 total points, with 23 being the highest score allowed. Their offense did just enough to win 4 out 5 of those games. The defense is going to have to rise to the occasion here to beat the NFL’s Head Coach/Play-calling darling Sean McVay and his group. It would not surprise me to see Dallas keep this close and allow less than Vegas is implying for LA. However, we cannot ignore the talent and creativity that the Rams have brought to the NFL this season. In particular, Todd Gurley ($8000) has had a phenomenal season in this offense, but is coming off injury and McVay has said we will see “good a balance of both” Gurley and C.J. Anderson ($4800). How much balance remains the question, but it would seem likely to be enough to cut down on the workhorse role and hoarding of all the backfield opportunity Gurley had until the injury. I’ve got the Rams projected to run the ball 28 times, which if split 60/40 and accounting for some WR or QB runs, would leave Gurley around 12-15 carries. Gurley will get the bulk of, if not all of the targets out of the backfield to RBs which should net him around 4 or 5 targets for about 3-4 catches and close to 30-40 yards. The concern will be who gets the goal line touches. My guess is those are still Gurley’s touches (and touchdowns). Dallas had trouble with Barkley, Quizz Rodgers and Mack to close out the season, so I see no reason to worry about the match-up for Gurley here.
It will be interesting to see what McVay has drawn up for the Rams passing offense in this one. Dallas plays solid pass defense, keeps stuff in front of them, and keeps big plays to a minimum. They are a good but not great defense. They don’t get a bunch of sacks or force many turnovers, and are just inside of the top 10 for keeping offenses from converting red zone trips into TDs – but they are top 5 when on the road. Jared Goff ($5500) is capable of finding 20 points in this game, but the WRs may be in for a point share. The target chart indicates the Cowboys funnel targets to the #1 WR. This is primarily a function of them keeping their best corner (Byron Jones) cemented on the right side of the defense, so teams can run their #1 WR away from him all they want. Robert Woods ($5900) has been the overall leader in snaps and targets and targets since Cooper Kupp went on IR. However, Woods is primarily used in the slot where he’ll see a lot of Anthony Brown. Brown is the lowest rated of the top three corners per ProFootballFocus.com, but the Cowboys are allowing more points to the guy Chidobe Awuzie is covering. Since Jones and Awuzie don’t follow WRs, the Rams can dictate who they want running routes to either guy’s side of the field. Meaning either Brandin Cooks ($5600) or Josh Reynolds ($4500) may be in for the biggest day for the WRs.
The Cowboys coverage scheme should be able to keep the Rams wide-outs from beating them over the top, limiting any chance of a big play. Cooks and Reynolds have similar Red Zone numbers leaving the choice between these two somewhat of a coin flip. Something I noticed from the data splits is that Cooks led the Rams in targets in the 3 home games since Kupp went down with 28. Reynolds is second with 27, and Woods is 3rd with 23. My guess is all three WRs are effective from a real-life standpoint, but there won’t be one that has better odds than the other of cracking a 20-25+ point score. In general, it seems like the scoring could be pretty spread out among them, unless the Rams find a match-up they really like and plan to exploit. The Best approach may be to scatter these 3 WRs throughout several lineups. If you’re looking for a punt at TE this week, Gerald Everett ($2700) might be your guy. Everett has seen his snap share jump to 60% with Kupp out of the lineup, and until last week had 3 straight games of 6 or 7 targets. The one target game last week is a bit concerning, but the Cowboys have the highest percentage of targets going to the TE position for the slate, so there is a chance he could return a decent amount of value.
Los Angeles Chargers (21.5/+4) at New England Patriots (29.0/-4) 
The Match-Up and Target Data charts both indicate Keenan Allen ($6400) is in a great spot for this match-up. The Match-Up Chart indicates the best place to attack NE is with the #1 WR and/or Slot WR, and Allen is one in the same for those roles. For the slate, we can also see that the Pats allow/force the third-most pass attempts per game. As long as Allen can avoid Belichick’s tendency to take away the opponent’s top weapon, he could have a really good game here. I’m sure Phillip Rivers ($5700) will look to target him early and often. Overall, the Chargers offense is hard to get excited about this week. Allen is in a pretty good spot, but the rest of their “weapons” are more like punt options. Reasons being: the Pats limit QB scoring, The Williams Brothers are big play or touchdown dependent, and Melvin Gordon ($6200) is hard to trust with that balky knee. Hunter Henry ($2800) is back after his long tenure on IR and will probably be a 3rd down/red zone option, but he will likely be on a “pitch count”. Aside from moderate Allen exposure, the only options I’m considering will be TD dependent Mike Williams ($4700) and big-play threat Tyrell Williams ($3900), with more exposure to Mike than Tyrell. This will probably be the lowest owned offense on the slate, which would open up some leverage to roster Chargers stacks in case they ball out.
The Patriots offense is a shell of what we’re accustomed to seeing, but they still have some valuable pieces to work within this match-up. The Chargers are weak at defending pass catching RBs, and Pats beat reporter @KevinRDuffy let the Twitter world know just how much volume they have allowed RBs in a pass catching capacity here. With Playoff DFS, we’re looking for every edge possible and James White ($4900) seems to have a huge edge in a PPR format like DraftKings this week. White is a part of a crowded backfield that also sees Rex Burkhead ($3600) getting targets and Sony Michel ($4700) chewing up most of the carries. Based on the target data, NE could look to completely avoid the Chargers elite secondary and focus on passes to both White and Burkhead out of the backfield while hammering Michel at the defense on the ground. Rob Gronkowski ($4600) pops up as an interesting play this week based on the data as well. The Chargers allow the highest average of targets per game on the slate to the TE position, and Gronk is as cheap as he’s ever been. With such a drought at the TE position this round, Gronk is a legit candidate to return solid value at his salary. Julian Edelman ($6300) faces PFF’s highest graded CB of the season (Desmond King) in the slot. This is a match-up to mostly avoid, but if playing multiple entries you’ll want a little exposure. The two outside WRs are contrarian/punt options that I don’t think you need to roster unless you’re an MME player. I have concerns with Tom Brady’s ($5600) volume if the game plan is to dink and dunk and run the ball against this defense. He could end up with 2-3 TDs, but the yardage could be pretty low. The Patriots recently beat a Bills team with a similarly strong pass defense as the Chargers with Brady only attempting 24 passes. The RB group (including Patterson) carrying the ball 43 times in that game. It may not be that lopsided here, but I would guess the game plan will be very similar.
Philadelphia Eagles (21.5/+7.5) at New Orleans Saints (29.0/-7.5) [50.5]
This is the only game that features a rematch of two teams that met this year in the regular season, and it did not go so well for the Eagles. The Saints scored as many points as the Eagles ran plays (48). They return to the scene of that beat down, where they only scored 10 points, in hopes of advancing to the NFC Championship. A look back at what worked for Philly in that last game doesn’t reveal much, but Jamaal Adams ($3200) sure had a solid game for the limited amount of touches he saw. He was ripping off chunks of yards at a time on the ground against a very stout run defense, including a 28-yard touchdown run. He had a 7.6 YPC average, but with the Eagles being so far down, they could not commit to many run plays in that game. I don’t suspect they will call a ton of run plays here either, but Adams has some appeal as a cheap punt option. I do worry about his nonexistent usage in Chicago last week though. Darren Sproles ($4400) has a former employer narrative that he was unable to address in these teams’ prior meeting since he was still on IR. Perhaps that gives him extra incentive, but not enough to warrant a high amount of exposure to. If playing only a handful of line-ups, it would probably be wiser to fade the Philly RB situation altogether. New Orleans is tough on the ground and against receiving backs.
Despite Marshon Lattimore’s shadow coverage of #1 WRs, opponents are still targeting their top guy the most often of their WRs with 9.6 targets per game flying the WR1’s way. Alshon Jeffery ($5800) functions as the Eagles WR1, and should expect to see Lattimore again in this one. Lattimore held Jeffery to 2 targets, 1 catch, and 3 yards per PFF’s Shadow Coverage Matrix. Jeffery did manage 3 more targets against other corners, catching all 3 for 30 yards, but that’s not great. The Eagles #2 WR Nelson Agholor ($4300) saw 2 targets and didn’t catch either. He was not listed as being shadowed. The most successful WR of the Philly group was Golden Tate ($4600) catching 5 of his 8 targets for 48 yards. Philly went into last week’s game running a ton of plays from 12 personnel (2WR/2TE/1RB) in the few weeks prior. However, last week we saw the Eagles in a lot more 11 personnel (3WR/1TE/1RB), allowing Tate to be on the field for 62% of the snaps and cutting Dallas Goedert’s ($2800) role down to 44% snap share – a decline of over 15% from the previous 3 weeks. While it may be easy to dismiss this WR group based on the prior performance in New Orleans, there could be a 20 point getter in the bunch…maybe two.
Teams that have had success throwing on the Saints typically had two guys producing, see: Antonio/JuJu, Julio/Ridley, Cooks/Kupp, Thielen/Diggs, etc. For me, I’m game for using these WRs scattered throughout lineups, but if you’re mass entering, then using two in the same lineup will give your rosters differentiation from box score chasers being too timid to dive all the way in here. Where it gets questionable is deciding to spend salary on the second highest priced TE of the slate, and roster Zach Ertz ($5700) in a match-up that has not yielded many points to the position. Besides the Eagles themselves, the Saints are allowing the fewest targets to TEs and are the allowing the least amount of points to the position on the slate. Paying up for Ertz is not an optimal play, but would give some leverage against the field that will either pay all the way up for Kelce or go with Ebron for about the same salary. In this match-up from week 11 the Saints allowed only 2 catches for 15 yards to Ertz, and Goedert didn’t catch any of his 3 targets, so rostering Philly TEs is risky. Philly will have to get creative with how they deploy Ertz for him to have a big game.
The Saints annihilated the Eagles in week 11, outscoring them 48-10, and ran 21 more offensive plays than the Eagles did. I’m expecting a better fight from the Eagles this time, and I have the teams projected to run more plays on offense this time [58 (PHI) & 63 (NO)]. The Saints ran decreasing less pass plays per quarter in the previous meeting, but were at a 23-to-14 Pass/Run ratio prior to the half. They didn’t need to throw the rest of the way, unless it was a third down situation, and they finished the game only attempting 3 passes in the 4th quarter for a final R/P ratio of 33-to-35. For this match-up, I have a projected 35-to-28 R/P ratio making the entire offense valuable from start to finish. The three players I will target the most for Saints are Michael Thomas ($7900), Drew Brees ($6700), and Alvin Kamara ($7300). Thomas only needed 4 targets to catch all 4 for 92 yards and a TD. Teams are relentlessly targeting their top WR against the Eagles defense, and that has bee the case all year. We saw how that manifested last week with Allen Robinson having the best game of his season in terms of catches and yards. We can also see from the match-up chart that Philly has the only green square (20+ points allowed) for #1 WRs. Of course, if I play Thomas in a lineup, then I am going to look to stack him with Drew Brees as many times as possible. Brees is the only other QB on the slate I think can keep up with Mahomes, and had a great game in this prior meeting tossing 30 balls for 363 yards and 4 TDs. Trubisky just threw 43 passes for 303 yards and a TD against the Eagles, and I am expecting Brees’ numbers to fall somewhere in between his last game against the Eagles and Trubisky’s game. The Eagles are right up there with the Colts for most targets per game allowed to the RB position, and although Kamara only saw 1 target in this match-up before, I think that increases here. For the season, Kamara is second on the team in red zone targets with 25, just three shy of Michael Thomas’s 28. With only Zeke and Mack providing full time, workhorse type roles Kamara and Gurley are the next best options (assuming Gurley truly does share work with CJA). Kamara not being the back coming off an injury layoff is the only reason I like him ever so slightly more than Gurley this week.
The Saints have a couple of peripheral players to target in this one as well. Ted Ginn ($4400) was brought back to give Brees a familiar and trusted weapon after Tre’Quan Smith ($4200) got injured and never regained his momentum. Ginn presents big play opportunities and is “value menu” priced. I have a feeling he’ll be highly owned by people trying to keep a foot in the door of this game at a low investment. Having Ginn in your FLEX spot allows you to pivot to Sproles if you think you need to differentiate at the last minute. Mark Ingram ($5200) had a 100 yards and 2 TDs on the ground against what is usually a tough Philly front 7 versus the run. In fact, both Ingram and Kamara had good success against that Philly run defense averaging 6.0 yards per carry between the two of them. Ingram himself had 6.4 YPC. Should the Saints get into clock controlling mode in this game, Ingram would be a good bet to receive a heavy amount of carries but Kamara should still handle the majority of any targets to the backfield duo.
This slate shakes out very similar to last week’s. The best game is the first one to start, then it’s a wind-down the rest of the way, although the Eagles/Saints does provide hope for more points than the Eagles/Bears did. I am seeing 6 elite options on this slate (Zeke, Mack, Thomas, Hill, Kelce, Ebron) and unfortunately, it is not possible to build a roster with all 6. This will be my core group to build rosters around, and I’ll try to keep exposure to any one player at around 65-70% max, just in case something goes wrong. There are plenty of cheap options available that will allow a roster construction of at least 4 of those guys and still feel confident in the rest of the build. Remember to put your most expensive Eagles/Saints player in your FLEX spot so you have more late swap options if you need to make last game differentiation moves. Here is a link to my player pool that will be updated up until kick-off of the slate. Feel free to use that as a starting point for your player pool, and modify as you see fit. Best of luck this weekend, and thanks for reading!