News & Analysis

The 8 things we learned for fantasy football in the Conference Championships

Jan 20, 2019; Kansas City, MO, USA; Kansas City Chiefs wide receiver Sammy Watkins (14) reacts during the second half of the AFC Championship game against the New England Patriots at Arrowhead Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Mark Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports

What did we learn about all of these teams this weekend, and what does it mean for them — from a fantasy football perspective — in 2019?

The New England Patriots and Los Angeles Rams both won overtime games to earn trips to Super Bowl LIII, knocking off the AFC’s No. 1 seed (Kansas City Chiefs) and NFC’s No. 1 seed (New Orleans Saints) in the process.

New England Patriots

  • Rex Burkhead is the third wheel, but he’s still an interesting DFS punt play and 2019 late-round pickup. Sony Michel dominated the ground work once again (29 attempts), while James White played his usual hyper-efficient role, but the Patriots still found room for Burkhead to collect 16 touches (12 rushes, four receptions).
    The high touch count is a byproduct of New England taking over 90 snaps, but the touch distribution is what’s of note — especially Burkhead’s two goal-line touchdowns late in the game. Burkhead can’t be fully trusted because Michel is clearly the top dog, but he will be one of the better DFS punt options in the Super Bowl.

  • New England is still willing to rely on Rob Gronkowski in their biggest situations, which keeps him in play in single-game DFS contests for the Super Bowl. Gronkowski finished with a decent stat line (6-79-0) but played arguably his best game of the season and was relied on for two huge third-down conversions late in the game with New England trailing. He also had another end-zone target (which was intercepted).
    Gronkowski is still obviously a vital part of New England’s offense and one of the few players they trust for must-convert plays, and while he doesn’t completely dominate like he used to, he did make some nice catches. He’ll be the top DFS tight end in the Super Bowl and a middle-of-the-pack TE1 if he returns in 2019.

Los Angeles Rams

  • Todd Gurley had five touches — five! — in the NFC Championship game, and it’s apparently because he isn’t good enough. That’s right. Gurley said he wasn’t used because he played “sorry” — not because he was hurt. Personally, I find that hard to believe. Two weeks should give Gurley enough time to heal up and be ready for the Super Bowl. I love him as a contrarian GPP play. Where he goes in next year’s fantasy drafts will also be interesting, but I’d expect him to still be a high first-round pick; remember, he just received a massive contract from the Rams and he’ll still be just 25 when the 2019 NFL season begins.
  • Brandin Cooks continued his wild in-dome game splits. Cooks had a strong 7-107-0 line against the Saints, his former team, and was clearly Los Angeles’ best outside weapon. Cooks has a 5% higher catch rate indoors (69% vs. 64%), he averages more yards per game (71.4 vs. 68.3), and he has more total touchdowns indoors (17 vs. 16) despite playing 12 fewer career games indoors (28 vs. 40). The Super Bowl will be played indoors, and it’s another “revenge game” for Cooks, this time against the Patriots.

Kansas City Chiefs

  • Damien Williams is the truth. He had just 30 rushing yards on 10 carries, but the Chiefs were trailing most of the game and abandoned the run. He did score a rushing touchdown to make up for it. He was huge through the air, though, catching five passes for 66 yards and two scores. It should have been three receiving scores and four total, but Patrick Mahomes missed Williams wide open in the end zone in the first half.
    After Kareem Hunt’s release, the Chiefs seemed like frontrunners for Le’Veon Bell, but Williams has made a strong case to be KC’s lead man in 2019. Early prognosis: Williams would be a second-round fantasy pick should he remain as the clear starter.

  • Sammy Watkins can be huge for the Chiefs and will be one of my top sleeper targets in 2019. He caught four passes for 114 yards despite squaring off against one of the league’s best corners — Stephon Gilmore — most of the game. Watkins was asked to step up with New England erasing Tyreek Hill and Travis Kelce, who combined for just four catches on the day.

New Orleans Saints

  • Dan Arnold most likely isn’t the tight end of the future for the Saints. Arnold was decent with limited playing time this season, with his spotlight game coming against the Falcons in November with a 4-45-1 line, but he failed to catch a pass in the NFC Championship game even with Ben Watson and Keith Kirkwood both out of the lineup.
    Arnold dropped an early touchdown and didn’t make much noise after that. Arnold will be 24 next season, and he is a converted wideout, so there’s still time for improvement, but he won’t be as “hot” of a fantasy sleeper this offseason based on this game.

  • Alvin Kamara can safely be drafted in the top half of the first round in fantasy leagues next season. Alright, maybe we already knew this, but I struggled to find something else we genuinely learned about the Saints from this game. Kamara’s usage stood out to me, though, as his 11 receptions were seven more than anyone else on the team. He finished the game with 18 touches to Mark Ingram’s 11, a familiar split.
    The split is noteworthy, though, because the early gamescript seemed to favor Ingram more than Kamara — but Kamara still trounced him in total touches. Long story short: Don’t be afraid of spending big draft capital on Kamara next season even if Ingram sticks around (Ingram is an unrestricted free agent this offseason). If Ingram leaves town, Kamara will contend for the top overall draft spot.
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