News & Analysis

Previewing Wild Card weekend for fantasy

Dec 3, 2017; New Orleans, LA, USA; Carolina Panthers quarterback Cam Newton (1) and New Orleans Saints quarterback Drew Brees (9) meet after their game at the Mercedes-Benz Superdome. The Saints won, 31-21. Mandatory Credit: Chuck Cook-USA TODAY Sports

With so few options for fantasy players this weekend, PFF's Jeff Ratcliffe takes an in-depth look at each of this weekend's games for the purposes of fantasy and breaks down just who you want in your daily and one-and-done leagues.

Tennessee Titans @ Kansas City Chiefs

Week 18 Quarterback Running Back Wide Receiver Tight End
Tm Opp Rk PPG MU Rk PPG MU Rk PPG MU Rk PPG MU
KC TEN 8 15.8 21 21.5 7 32.0 11 11.7
TEN KC 12 15.7 25 20.2 2 34.8 + 27 9.5

Entering the 2017 season, many in fantasy circles expected a breakout season from Marcus Mariota and few predicted one would come from Alex Smith. Of course, the opposite occurred in both cases, and Smith ended up being one of this year’s biggest surprises.

Smith topped 4,000 passing yards for the first time in his 12-year career and also posted personal bests in yards per attempt (8.00) and touchdown passes (26). He draws a favorable matchup against a Titans defense that allowed four passing scores to four different quarterbacks this season. Smith’s upside makes him a very tempting option in DFS, especially given his reasonable price tag ($7,800 FD, $6300 DK). For those in one-and-done formats, the likelihood that the Chiefs win makes Smith and the rest of the Kansas City skill position players less than desirable options.

The matchup is also favorable for Tyreek Hill, who will see a lot of Adoree’ Jackson. The rookie put together a solid season with opposing receivers averaging 10.1 yards per catch in his coverage. However, as rookies usually are, Jackson was heavily targeted. His 109 targets ranked second among all corners and he allowed the third-most receptions (63). Hill is the third-most expensive receiver on both major DFS sites, but he is a strong play on the short slate, especially stacked with Smith.

It isn’t a home run of a matchup for Travis Kelce, but the Titans did prove to be susceptible to tight ends at times this season and allowed the 11th-most PPR points per game to the position. Of course, Kelce is no ordinary tight end. His massive upside helped him close out the season as fantasy’s No. 2 tight end. He led the position in receptions with 83 and was one of only two tight ends to top 1,000 receiving yards – the other was some guy named Rob Gronkowski. Kelce is this week’s most expensive DFS tight end, but he’s also the chalk at the position.

Kareem Hunt closed out an impressive rookie season with the league rushing title. He also ranked third among running backs in standard and fourth in PPR scoring. This isn’t the best matchup, but Hunt is worthy of DFS exposure. But keep in mind that he’s the third most-expensive option at the position ($8,200 FD, $8,100 DK).

On the other side of this contest, there isn’t much to like for fantasy purposes. Marcus Mariota floundered for much of the regular season, finishing with a 13:15 touchdown to interception ratio. While the Chiefs did surrender the 12th-most fantasy points per game to quarterbacks, they only allowed more than one passing score in a game once over the last seven weeks. Mariota is cheap in DFS ($7,200 FD, $5,500 DK), but it’s tough to endorse much exposure to him this week. Likewise, there are better options elsewhere in one-and-done formats.

As the quarterback goes, so goes the receivers. That means it’s wise to fade the trio of Rishard Matthews, Corey Davis, and Eric Decker. The only pass catcher on the Titans worth a look in DFS this week is Delanie Walker. He’s a reasonable $5,800 on FanDuel and is even cheaper on DraftKings at $4,700. The Chiefs did a good job against tight ends in the regular season – they only allowed three scores to the position – but they’re going to have their hands full with Walker, who finished the regular season sixth among tight ends in fantasy scoring. Walker is in play in DFS and is one of the top one-and-done tight ends this week.

With DeMarco Murray already ruled out, Derrick Henry will again serve as the feature back. In that role last week, Henry racked up 29 touches. Tough but ineffective on the ground – he had just 51 yards on 28 carries – Henry flashed major fantasy upside on a 66-yard catch-and-run receiving touchdown. Henry isn’t the strongest play on the board, but he’s a cost-effective DFS option ($6,500 FD, $6,000 DK) and is in the mix as a one-and-done play.

Atlanta FalconsLos Angeles Rams

Week 18 Quarterback Running Back Wide Receiver Tight End
Tm Opp Rk PPG MU Rk PPG MU Rk PPG MU Rk PPG MU
ATL LAR 26 12.4 7 23.4 21 27.6 19 10.6
LAR ATL 9 15.8 16 21.9 18 29.0 20 10.4

The NFC slate has the potential for some explosive results. The defending NFC champion, Atlanta, regressed on the offensive side of the ball this season and will have to travel across the country to face arguably this season’s biggest breakout team.

From a pure-football standpoint, Matt Ryan played darn good football in 2017 and finished the regular season as our No. 2 quarterback. However, those in fantasy circles are quick to point out Ryan’s statistical regression from 38 passing scores in 2016 to just 20 this season. In fact, Ryan failed to throw for more than two touchdowns in any game this year. While there’s still the chance for upside, Ryan isn’t a strong fantasy option this week.

Even though Ryan doesn’t offer much fantasy appeal, Julio Jones has to be considered. Despite the perception that Jones had a down year, he finished the regular season second in receiving yards with 1,444. He also displayed a massive ceiling in Week 12, when he racked up 253 yards and two scores on 12 catches. Jones is expensive on DFS ($8,500 FD, $8,000 DK), but he’s worth consideration. He’s also one of the best one-and-done plays of the week.

The Rams struggled against the run for most of the season. Opposing running backs found the end zone 14 times against Los Angeles, which was fourth-most in the league. That puts Devonta Freeman in play, especially in one-and-dones. He’s also slightly discounted in DFS ($7,000 FD, $6,300 DK).

Sean McVay’s impact on the Rams offense cannot be understated. Los Angeles closed out last season as the league’s No. 32 offense. With McVay at the helm, the Rams ranked 10th in total offense. Perhaps the biggest beneficiary of McVay’s presence has been Jared Goff. Widely panned for his uninspiring rookie season, Goff tossed 28 scores and just seven picks this year and finished 12th among quarterbacks in fantasy scoring. Given the anticipation that the Rams win this contest, Goff isn’t the best one-and-done option, but he’s worth some DFS exposure despite his healthy price tag ($8,500 FD, $6,700 DK).

The coaching change also had a major effect on Todd Gurley’s fantasy stock. Widely regarded as a fantasy bust in 2016, Gurley rebounded in a major way and topped all running backs in fantasy scoring this year. He’s super expensive ($10,000 FD, $9,700 DK), but Gurley has to be considered when constructing DFS lineups this week.

Wide receiver offers the potential for DFS value with the Rams this week. Robert Woods ($7,400 FD, $6,600 DK) emerged as the top option this season, posting a career-best 781 receiving yards. Woods offers a solid ceiling/floor combination. Cooper Kupp’s ceiling isn’t as high as Woods, but he has arguably a higher floor. Kupp led the team in targets in the regular season with 90. That volume makes him an interesting play on DraftKings, where he’s a modest $5,800. Sammy Watkins isn’t the most ideal DraftKings option, but his big play upside is worth some exposure on FanDuel where he comes in at $6,700.

Buffalo Bills @ Jacksonville Jaguars

Week 18 Quarterback Running Back Wide Receiver Tight End
Tm Opp Rk PPG MU Rk PPG MU Rk PPG MU Rk PPG MU
BUF JAX 32 9.3 – – – 26 19.8 32 23.0 – – 26 9.6
JAX BUF 28 11.4 – – 1 26.3 ++ 24 26.5 8 12.2

This contest has the potential to be the most lopsided of the week, with the Bills sneaking into the playoffs after a roller coaster ride of a season that saw them bench their starting quarterback with disastrous results.

The aforementioned quarterback, Tyrod Taylor, regained the starting job, but it’s tough to get behind him as a fantasy option this week given how the Jags have completely shut down signal callers this season. That also takes the entire Bills wide receiver corps out of play. Charles Clay is risky, but should be considered as a dark horse tight end option thanks to his cheap price ($5,500 FD, $4,000 DK).

Buffalo also has a major question at running back after LeSean McCoy injured his ankle in the season finale. McCoy has yet to practice this week and is considered a true game-time decision. Even if he is able to suit up, McCoy will likely be less than 100 percent and should be faded.

While he won’t pass for an elite quarterback, Blake Bortles has shown the ability to put up fantasy numbers with top-12 finishes in 2015 and 2016. He just missed that distinction this year, ranking 13th among quarterbacks in fantasy scoring during the regular season. Bortles is priced fairly this week ($7,600 FD, $6,000 DK), but the Bills have done a good job against the pass this season. Buffalo allowed more than two passing scores in a game just once and surrendered the fifth-fewest fantasy points per game to quarterbacks. Bortles isn’t the best DFS option this week.

How should fantasy players navigate the Jaguars wide receivers? It’s a great question that doesn’t have a good answer at this point. Marqise Lee and Allen Hurns missed time at the end of the season, but both could be on the field this weekend. If both do return, the Jaguars could use either Keelan Cole or Dede Westbrook in their 3-wide sets. With so many moving parts and a somewhat bad matchup for this group, it’s best to just avoid the Jacksonville wideouts.

Leonard Fournette didn’t prove to be the most durable back in his rookie season. Despite the injuries, Fournette still managed to top 1,000 rushing yards and scored a combined 10 touchdowns. Better yet, he draws a fantastic matchup against a Bills defense that allowed the most fantasy points per game to running backs this season. Opposing backfields averaged 112.4 rushing yards and 1.1 rushing scores per game against Buffalo in 2017. Fournette is one the best DFS plays of the week, and unlike Gurley, he’s reasonably priced at $8,100 on FanDuel and $7,400 on DraftKings.

Carolina Panthers @ New Orleans Saints

Week 18 Quarterback Running Back Wide Receiver Tight End
Tm Opp Rk PPG MU Rk PPG MU Rk PPG MU Rk PPG MU
CAR NO 22 14.0 22 21.3 16 29.2 32 8.6 – –
NO CAR 18 14.5 30 17.6 4 34.1 + 28 9.1

The Wild Card Round projects to end with a bang as these NFC South rivals square off on Sunday. Sean Payton pulled a 180 with the Saints this season and leaned heavily on the run. After passing the ball 674 times in 2016, New Orleans attempted just 536 passes this year. Likewise, the Panthers are a team in transition after adding a dynamic speed element to the offense in rookie Christian McCaffrey.

With the run game working, New Orleans didn’t need to rely on Drew Brees to carry the team this season. Brees completed fewer than 400 passes for just the third time in his 12-year tenure with the Saints and had his lowest yardage total (4,334) since he joined the team. Brees also tossed his fewest passing scores (23) since 2003, which was his third year in the league. While his ceiling isn’t as high as in past seasons, Brees is worth some exposure in DFS ($8,100 FD, $6,400 DK). However, those in one-and-dones will want to save Brees and the rest of the Saints. In two games against the Panthers this season, New Orleans won by margins of 21 and 10.

Even though the Saints didn’t throw the ball as much this season, Michael Thomas still managed to top 100 catches, finishing third among wide receivers with 104. From a target volume standpoint, Thomas was a model of consistency, with at least eight targets in 13-of-16 games. Thomas found the end zone in both of his meetings against the Panthers this season, and he’s arguably the top DFS option at wide receiver this week.

At running back, the Saints made history this season with Mark Ingram and Alvin Kamara combining for 3,094 scrimmage yards and 25 touchdowns. Their level of productivity from Week 6 on is truly remarkable. The Panthers defended the run very well this season with one glaring exception: Week 13. Their opponent in that contest was the Saints, and Ingram and Kamara combined for 145 rushing yards and three rushing scores. Kamara is the second-most expensive DFS option ($9,100 FD, $8,600 DK) and Ingram isn’t cheap ($8,000 FD, $6,900 DK), but both are squarely in play as fantasy options this week.

The Panthers offer potentially the best fantasy value for one-and-done leagues this week, with Cam Newton topping the list at quarterback. It wasn’t the most consistent season for Newton, but he finished things out second among signal callers in fantasy scoring. New Orleans is a mid-pack matchup, but Newton’s upside positions him well for big fantasy numbers. He’s a chalky DFS option as well ($8,300 FD, $6,500 DK).

Following the Kelvin Benjamin trade, Devin Funchess slotted in as the Panthers’ de facto No. 1 wide receiver. He isn’t a natural fit for that role, but Funchess is still a good bet to lead the team in targets. He’s worth consideration as a stack with Newton this week, as is Greg Olsen. The veteran tight end hasn’t been quite right since returning from the foot injury that sidelined him for much of the regular season, but Olsen did manage 116 yards and a score on nine catches in Week 15. He’s a strong one-and-done play and has some DFS appeal as a differentiation play.

The one-and-done value continues at running back for the Panthers, as McCaffrey is very much in play. Carolina never quite unleashed McCaffrey in his rookie season, but he did see a position-high 106 targets and finished third among running backs with 80 catches. New Orleans did a good job against running backs this season, but McCaffrey’s pass-catching and big-play upside make him a strong one-and-done option.

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