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NFL DFS Conference Championship Advice: Sleepers, Busts and More

NFL DFS Conference Championship - James White, New England Patriots

I warned The Sports Geek readers last week that the daily fantasy football season as you knew it was about to end. Regular NFL DFS slates are pretty much gone, with this week’s two-game conference championship slate being the last chance for normalcy.

After this, you’re looking at showdown slates involving the Pro Bowl and Super Bowl 53. Personally, I’d much rather just take a look at the latest Super Bowl 53 odds and place an actual bet, rather than mess with those.

I’ll still be here to break down those NFL DFS contests, of course. I just thought everyone should know that the transition period from daily fantasy football to NBA DFS and MLB DFS is about to be in full swing.

Fortunately, it’s not there quite yet.

If you play your cards right, you can still win big in NFL DFS GPPs at FanDuel this week. Join me as I break down this tiny slate in an effort to piece together a winner this weekend:

NFL DFS Studs to Trust

A week after almost going 5/5 on my stud core, I had a few misses during the Divisional Round. Andrew Luck ended up being a total spare in a game that was supposed to top 57 points, Alvin Kamara was relatively lifeless and Eric Ebron was held in check.

The good news is those studs were fairly high-owned in tournaments. I also struck gold with Tyreek Hill and the Patriots defense wasn’t too bad.

As I begin the NFL DFS lineup building process this week, I’ll likely start with a core containing the following options:

  • Drew Brees, QB, New Orleans Saints ($8.8k)
  • James White, RB, New England Patriots ($7.7k)
  • Tyreek Hill, WR, Kansas City Chiefs ($8.4k)
  • Rob Gronkowski, TE, New England Patriots ($5.6k)
  • New Orleans Saints Defense ($4.6k)
Drew Brees:
Patrick Mahomes is everyone’s top fantasy passer this week, but perhaps it should be Brees. Then 40-year-old signal caller has awesome splits inside his home dome and won’t be impacted by weather like Mahomes could (that game is expected to be cold). The Rams also aren’t exactly an elite defense against the pass (8th most passing TDs allowed) this year.
James White:
Todd Gurley leads the way as the most dominant running back this weekend, but James White stands out as a better overall play. You’re saving about $1k to use him and his role as New England’s short area pass-catcher looks as locked in as ever. He hauled in a ridiculous 15 catches last week and is always super involved during the playoffs. In cold weather against a Chiefs defense that gave up the fifth most receiving yards to running backs this year, White could be in for a big day.
Tyreek Hill:
I think the cold and New England’s underrated secondary could hurt the Chiefs a lot more than people think, but Tyreek Hill is too explosive to get completely stifled. He torched the Pats for 142 yards and three scores earlier this year and I find it hard to believe he won’t leave his mark in a crucial home playoff game.
Rob Gronkowski:
Travis Kelce is the obvious target at tight end, but I actually much prefer dropping down almost $2k to use The Gronk, who few people will use with much confidence. Gronkowski’s role has disappeared, but he turned three catches into 97 yards the last time he faced the Chiefs. Given Kansas City’s struggles against tight ends (dead last against the position), there is plenty of wiggle room for a solid outing.
New Orleans Saints Defense:
This really isn’t the best slate for trusting a team defense, but the Saints are at home and might have the best overall matchup. Their run defense should be able to contain Todd Gurley to a certain degree and I don’t trust Jared Goff to totally light them up. They’ll get some sacks and a turnover or two in a likely win. Hopefully that’s enough to make them the top unit for NFL DFS purposes this weekend.

Players to Avoid

While I like to start out each slate highlighting the elite options I covet, I also want to be careful of which guys could hurt me.

Last week I wasn’t too enamored with the likes of Jared Goff, Melvin Gordon, Alshon Jeffery, Rob Gronkowski, and the Colts defense. None of these guys would have been greatly missed if you didn’t use them in your daily fantasy football lineups, so it looks like I swept this category.

I didn’t nail all of my studs, but I definitely got you off of some duds if you listened to my NFL DFS advice in this spot. Here are the players I’m not forcing into my rosters this week:

  • Jared Goff, QB, Los Angeles Rams ($8k)
  • C.J. Anderson, RB, Los Angeles Rams ($6.5k)
  • Chris Hogan, WR, New England Patriots ($5.2k)
  • All the Other Tight Ends
  • New England Patriots Defense
Jared Goff:
Despite the cold weather, I am down for using Mahomes and Tom Brady this week, while Brees at home in the dome is also appealing. Goff just has not been very reliable down the stretch this season, so even though the Saints are in theory a positive matchup, I don’t think he’s close to being the best play on this slate. You can’t make many mistakes with just two games, so for me, fading Goff is key to avoiding major gaffes.
C.J. Anderson:
I also won’t be riding the C.J. Anderson hype train. He’s been great and if the Rams can control the tempo on the ground he could have a hand in it, but I simply just don’t buy it. It is difficult to enforce your will on the road and New Orleans stops the run very well. Todd Gurley is a fine try, but I’m not overly optimistic Anderson pays off like he has in recent weeks.
Chris Hogan:
I’m done trying to catch that random Chris Hogan explosion. His role has been better lately and the matchup with Kansas City (4th most yards allowed to WRs) looks great on paper, but the results just haven’t been there. I’d much rather pay for James White and Julian Edelman, while The Gronk is the one between these two I’m banking on showing some signs of life.
All the Other Tight Ends:
Speaking of Gronkowski, it’s him or Travis Kelce for me this week and nothing else. Gerald Everett is mildly appealing due to his price and his actual talent, but he has zero catches in his last two games. The other tight ends on this slate have very mild roles and would be super flukey if they did manage to pan out. Kelce is the more popular play, so I’m probably rolling out Gronkowski half the time and fading everyone else.
New England Patriots Defense:
I actually don’t hate the Patriots this week and think they get out of Arrowhead Stadium with a win. Still, you’d have to be insane to actually use them against an offense this stacked. Even if the Pats win, they are still pretty likely to give up points, as seen in their wild 43-40 win over KC earlier this year. As I said before, I really don’t love any defenses this week, but the only one I’m targeting with confidence is New Orleans.

Contrarian Options to Consider

It’s a tiny two-game slate for the AFC and NFC title game, but you can still find ways to differentiate your lineups.

Last week I felt like Dak Prescott, James White, Julian Edelman, Dallas Goedert and the Chargers defense could all be contrarian. Some of them were, while White, Edelman and even Dak were all strong plays.

Let’s see if I can’t keep the positive momentum going with some more NFL DFS contrarian picks for the conference championship round:

  • Tom Brady, QB, New England Patriots ($8.4k)
  • Mark Ingram, RB, New Orleans Saints ($6.1k)
  • Josh Reynolds, WR, Los Angeles Rams ($5.4k)

I don’t know how contrarian one gets when picking from four options, but Brady feels like the call here. He’s actually got a terrific matchup against a Chiefs team that ranked 28th versus fantasy passers during the regular season. He looked quite good last week and happened to rip KC for 340 passing yards when he faced them earlier in the year. With Patrick Mahomes and Drew Brees surely garnering more ownership, it’s possible Brady really is a low-owned play.

People may pay up for the stud rushers on this slate and I don’t really blame them. While I see the merit, it’s probably not my personal daily fantasy football strategy. The main reason is there is value to be had and it starts with Ingram, who will be at home against a beatable Rams defense that allowed the 8th most rushing yards to backs during the regular season. Ingram is looking at 10-15 touches and goal-line work in a must-win home game. I’ll take 60 total yards and a score and move along.

There is also Reynolds, who could roam free in the middle of the field and the red-zone with the Saints likely more focused on stopping Todd Gurley, Brandin Cooks, and Robert Woods. Marshon Lattimore will be trying to silence Cooks most likely, but someone is bound to break free a bit in this game. Reynolds has flashed end-zone chops and even in a likely loss, I think he could return value at a pretty nice price tag.

NFL DFS Sleepers to Target

Lastly, it’s always good to dive even deeper than some contrarian plays and locate a few salary savers that can help you land studs and pan out from a production perspective.

Going into last week I liked Philip Rivers, Damien Williams, Tre’Quan Smith, Hunter Henry and the Dallas defense and sneaky (and cheap) daily fantasy football sleepers.

Smith, Henry and the Cowboys were all busts, but Williams was a total monster. Rivers started horrifyingly slow, but actually ended up putting up big numbers and panned out beautifully.

Let’s see if I can nail some more gems for this weekend:

  • Rex Burkhead, RB, New England Patriots ($5.5k)
  • Tre’Quan Smith, WR, New Orleans Saints ($5k)

It’s a small slate, so the true daily fantasy football sleepers are few and far between. Burkhead still stands out, as he’s extremely versatile and even scored last week. You just never know what Bill Belichick has planned, so he could totally flip everything and feature Burkhead heavily out of nowhere. The matchup certainly would allow for a big day.

With Ted Ginn Jr.’s price spiking this week and pretty much every other viable wide receiver priced well over $5k this week, Smith is one of the few NFL DFS sleepers to look to. He is not going to be easy to trust, but he has deep speed and can take even one target the distance and pay off in an instant.

Summary

There is going to be very little margin for error this weekend, so my suggestion is to do some research, play some chalky guys and then go with your gut. I think part of the process is figuring out who wins these games, but also gauging how they win.

Both of these games opened the week with three-point spreads and massive 57-point Totals. That suggests we have some fireworks in store for us and if you believe that to be true, it may make sense for cram as many elite weapons from all sides as you possibly can.

Personally, I think the Saints and Patriots are advancing to Super Bowl 53 this weekend. I’m letting that dictate how I map my team out and also paying attention to areas where I can exploit in terms of player salary.

Two that stand out are running back (James White is likely my most expensive rusher) and tight end (I want Gronkowski over Kelce). I could be woefully wrong here and Todd Gurley and Travis Kelce both smash. I just don’t think they will.

They both should be fine, but I actually really like New England’s offense in this game. They’re built to crank out more short area plays, so extreme cold and outside elements really don’t impact them as much.

But that’s just the starting point. Be sure to factor as many things as possible and try to hammer out your favorite plays. Then take salary into consideration as you try to work your way up to the perfect NFL DFS lineup.

Whatever you decide, I wish you luck. It’s the end of the daily fantasy football season and hopefully, we all can cut out a piece of the cash-winning pie. Good luck and enjoy the games!

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John Jacobs

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