News & Analysis

2020 AFC-NFC Championship Preview: DFS advice, betting tips and matchups to watch

Oct 18, 2020; Tampa, Florida, USA; Tampa Bay Buccaneers quarterback Tom Brady (right) greets Green Bay Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers (left) after a NFL game at Raymond James Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports

PFF previews the AFC and NFC championship games, highlighting storylines to watch while also taking a fantasy football and betting approach to offer insight for every NFL fan.

NFC CHAMPIONSHIP: TAMPA BAY BUCCANEERS @ GREEN BAY PACKERS

Headline of the game: The Buccaneers forced Aaron Rodgers into his worst game of the season back in Week 6, but can they do it again?

Rodgers has been one of the best quarterbacks in the NFL against the blitz this season and has generated an 86.9 PFF passing grade (third) and a 111.7 passer rating (fifth) when the opposing defense has sent extra rushers. Those numbers would be even higher if his Week 6 performance against Tampa Bay were removed from the equation.

In that game, Rodgers was blitzed a season-high 21 times. He earned a passer rating of 7.4 on 17 attempts while getting sacked three times and scrambling once for eight yards. The Packers averaged just 1.9 yards per play on those Buccaneers blitzes.

Clearly, that was an anomaly in a season where Rodgers will likely take home the third MVP trophy of his career. However, the Packers’ offense can’t afford another lapse like that — not on this stage.

There is every reason to expect Todd Bowles and Tampa Bay to send another heavy dose of blitzes in this game. The Buccaneers’ 42.3% blitz rate during the regular season ranked third in the league behind only the Baltimore Ravens and Arizona Cardinals, and they’ve sent additional rushers at a similar rate through their two postseason games so far. Devin White’s speed remains the X-factor on those plays, as he has been one of the most productive off-ball pass-rushers in the league this season.

If Tampa Bay has its sights set on a Super Bowl appearance in Raymond James Stadium, the team will need to affect Rodgers in the passing game with pressure — because he’s shown this season that he’s not going to miss from a clean pocket.

Fantasy

Aaron Rodgers has posted one dud game this season, and it was against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers back in Week 6. He was pressured on 44% of his dropbacks and finished the day with a meager 5.8 fantasy points.

The offense was out of sync during Davante Adams’ first game back from his injury, and Allen Lazard was also not active.

We shouldn’t necessarily envision a repeat performance because Green Bay has all of its offensive weapons healthy. Plus, the Buccaneers’ pass-rush has not been nearly as fierce as it was to start the season.

Tampa’s pressure rate ranked third-best in the NFL (40%) through the first 10 weeks but has fallen to 14th (32%) since Week 16.

After backup tackle Billy Turner earned a 43.4 PFF pass-blocking grade in Week 17, his play improved dramatically in the Divisional Round. He earned PFF’s highest pass-blocking grade (85.9) among all offensive linemen last weekend.

Needless to say, Rodgers isn’t likely to face the same rate of pressure this time around — he has faced the second-lowest pressure rate (21%) since the team first lost to Tampa. No player threw more touchdowns (42) or had a higher QBR (129.3) when kept this clean this season, so expect Rodgers to continue his stretch of impressive fantasy production in the NFC Championship Game.

The Packers quarterback leads the league in fantasy points per game (25.7) since Week 7. He looks like an absolute steal on DraftKings at $6,500 against the pass-funnel Bucs defense. They lead the league in pass play percentage faced (70%) since Week 12.

That being said, Aaron Jones looks like a strong fade at the same price point because of how effective the defense is against running backs. No team has allowed fewer fantasy points per game to RBs than the Buccaneers. That’s due in part to the team allowing the fewest rushing yards in the regular season.

They have also been able to limit running back efficiency through the air. Though they have allowed the most receptions to running backs this season, the Bucs rank No. 1 in yards per target allowed to the position (4.2).

The Packers running back also continues to split snaps and high-value touches with Jamaal Williams, further muddling his fantasy potential for Week 20.

Tom Brady has been red-hot in fantasy, averaging 26.0 fantasy points per game (fifth) and 23.1 expected fantasy points per game (fifth) since Week 15.

He will face one of his tougher tasks to date against a surging Green Bay Packers pass defense that ranks second in touchdown percentage allowed (2%), eighth in yards per attempt (6.4), fifth in passer rating (86.1) and second in PFF coverage grade (86.7) since Week 13.

We could easily see the Buccaneers lean more on the ground attack like they did last week (35 rushing attempts) and follow a similar game plan to when they last faced the Packers (34 rushing attempts).

This would make sense considering the last two running backs GB has faced — Cam Akers (16.6 fantasy points, 90 rushing yards) and David Montgomery (28.2 fantasy points, 69 rushing yards) — had effective fantasy outings.

This bodes well for Leonard Fournette ($5,300), who operated as the team’s workhorse last week. He totaled 22 opportunities (17 carries, five targets), so he should be leaned on heavily again even with Ronald Jones back in the mix.

Regardless of how much Jones plays, those who roster Fournette in DFS can at least expect the latter to see all the pass-game usage, leaving little room for him to 100% bust. The Packers allowed the most yards and the third-highest yards per target (7.2) to running backs in the passing game this season.

Betting

The spread market has settled back into -3.5 after opening there and quickly testing 4.

These teams are back-to-back in our Elo rankings, which would typically result in a tighter spread this late in the season. One factor that could be leading to the discrepancy is the unique home-field advantage that the Packers have in January. Of course, home-field advantage has had no impact this season, but the market seems to be baking some of it into Green Bay in this matchup. PFF's predictive model (PFF Greenline) finds consensus with the current spread, but the Buccaneers on the moneyline is the only team-sided bet that could enter into our value threshold.

This matchup features the top two offenses in terms of our opponent-adjusted grades. Davante Adams is clearly the top receiving option in this matchup, but overall, the Buccaneers' pass-catchers have posted a slightly better grade than the Packers'. Still, despite the offensive firepower, the total has actually dropped half a point from the open, which makes it a break-even bet, according to PFF Greenline. Any further movement should bring about plenty of betting value, but this also looks like the perfect spot to target some derivative bets.

AFC CHAMPIONSHIP: BUFFALO BILLS @ KANSAS CITY CHIEFS

Headline of the game: Patrick Mahomes vs. Josh Allen is the quarterback matchup everyone deserves 

Though he was drafted one year earlier, Mahomes made his debut as the Chiefs’ starting quarterback to open the 2018 season — the same year Allen made his debut as a rookie in Buffalo. That is where the similarities between their career paths end. 

Mahomes quickly made it clear that he would be one of the game’s elite quarterbacks by earning a 92.4 PFF passing grade while throwing for 50 touchdowns and earning his first MVP trophy. And in the past two years, he has shown that there was no fluke in 2018. There was never any doubt that he was the guy for Kansas City. 

In a sense, the same can be said for Buffalo. #BillsMafia had the utmost faith in Allen as their franchise quarterback, even when his numbers pointed to the idea that the chances were slim to none that he would develop into a quality NFL starter. Across the 2018 and 2019 seasons, Allen’s 60.0 PFF passing grade was lowest among all 32 qualifying quarterbacks, and his traditional passing numbers, such as passer rating, yards per attempt and completion percentage, weren’t telling a different story. 

That changed in a big way in 2020, and it’s what makes this specific matchup so compelling. Allen’s 89.8 passing grade in the regular season ranked fifth among all quarterbacks, just one spot behind Mahomes. The work he did this past offseason, coupled with the offense that the Bills have built around him, is paying dividends. 

Both quarterbacks can pick opposing defenses apart from the pocket, but it’s the plays that they are uniquely qualified to make outside of structure that will likely be the story coming out of this game. Expect plenty of points on Sunday evening.  

Fantasy

The Bills' wide receivers will be a group to avoid against Kansas City. It’s hard not to trust Stefon Diggs at $7,000, but Kansas City greatly limits the upside of wide receivers. Only 16 WRs have managed 50 or more passing yards — and none of the Bills’ receivers hit that mark in the Week 6 matchup. 

Diggs should still be among the top three wide receivers for the week due to his volume of targets, but it will be difficult for any of the other wide receivers to find much success. Both John Brown and Cole Beasley have salaries above $4,000.

Some of the Bills players we usually avoid actually have high upside this weekend due to positional scarcity. Devin Singletary should lead all running backs in offensive snaps and is only $4,500. Singletary has barely run the ball in recent weeks, but the Bills have played strong run defenses. 

Buffalo will likely be more committed to the run in order to attack the weakness of Kansas City. When these teams last played, Buffalo ran on 36% of their offensive plays. Without Zack Moss, Singletary will get the vast majority of those touches. 

Travis Kelce is the most interesting player for Kansas City. He is tied for the most expensive player for the week at $8,000 — more than twice as much as any tight end. He still might be worth it at that price.

Kelce’s average points per game in recent weeks is more than twice any remaining tight end. Buffalo has allowed the most fantasy points to tight ends among the remaining playoff teams. This is in large part because they allowed the second-most total passing yards to tight ends during the regular season at 963.

Everyone else for Kansas City will be dependent on injury. Clyde Edwards-Helaire is the third-most-expensive running back at $5,000. He’s missed a month of football, and it seems unlikely that Kansas City would give him his usual amount of playing time if he is ready to play. 

Sammy Watkins could be a steal at his $3,800 price point, but only if he’s able to return. He has played five playoff games in his time with Kansas City and gained a minimum of 62 yards each game, with an average of 93 over those outings.

Betting

The injury situation makes this a difficult matchup to project this early in the week. Before Mahomes left the divisional-round game, the Chiefs were sitting at -4 on the look-ahead line. But things change quickly, as the market reopened at -2.5 before sticking to -3 for a full day. The spread has recently retreated back to the -2.5 number, with no indication that it will stay there once more information is digested by the market. 

There are only two options from here. Mahomes either clears concussion protocol, which should push this spread back to -3 and even has the chance to move further in the Chiefs' direction, or Mahomes isn’t cleared to play, in which case this spread swings heavily toward the Bills, where they would be 3-point favorites at the very least.

The compounding issue is that it isn’t just the concussion that Mahomes is dealing with, as he looked immobile for stretches due to a case of turf toe. If he is cleared from the protocol, there is still a lingering thought that he won’t be 100% due to the turf toe injury. 

In a situation where Mahomes plays, the Chiefs offer value at the -2.5 point spread, even against the second-best team in the league in our Elo rankings. If one is forced to make a decision this early in the week, that seems like the most appropriate spot to get your money in good. 

The total is dealing with the same dynamic as the spread but has dropped off considerably from the 55-point open. Now that it has moved down to 54, PFF Greenline is coming close to finding value in this potential shootout. This could be a spot to target if the indication is that Mahomes will suit up, as it shouldn’t see as rapid a change as the spread market.

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