This article is part of our DFS Tournament Guide series.
As always, I'm happy to discuss strategy in the comments below, or on twitter (@RotowireNFL_JD).
Note: All prices listed come from DraftKings, but most of the logic can be applied to other sites across the DFS industry. Discussion is limited to players from the "main slate" of games kicking off at 1:00, 4:05 and 4:25 p.m. ET on Sunday. The strategy below is meant for large-field tournaments, where payouts typically are limited to ~20 percent of lineups, with the vast majority concentrated at the very top.
These are the players with the best projections relative to price — good plays both for cash games and large-field tournaments. While we don't want our tourney lineups to look like cash-game lineups top to bottom, there's nothing wrong with using a few "chalk" picks that have the best odds to outperform their salaries. These players, along with a couple passing-game stacks, tend to form the core that remains fairly consistent throughout my lineups.
- TE Zach Ertz, PHI at WAS ($6,000)
A mediocre rushing attack combined with terrible injury luck at wide receiver leaves the Eagles with little choice but to give Ertz all the volume he can handle (and then some). The tight end got 11 or more targets in four of his past five games, only falling shy of that mark Week 13 when he was limited to 74 percent snap share while playing with a minor hamstring injury (plus, Alshon Jeffery was actually active that week). Even with the one poor game included, Ertz's averages over the past five weeks work out to 8.4 catches for 80.6 yards and 0.8 touchdowns on 11.0 targets — good for 21.9 DK points per game. I'm not sure how much the matchup matters, but consider it a bonus that Washington is 18th in DK points allowed to TEs and 21st in yards per target (7.9) allowed to the position.
- WR Robert Woods, LAR at DAL ($6,200)
Woods has nine or more targets and 95 or more yards in each of his past four games, including a 7-98-1 receiving line last week when both Cooper Kupp and Brandin Cooks had their playing time slashed to accommodate more two-TE formations. I made a long argument for Woods in my Week 15 matchups column; the simple version is that we should get WR1 volume and WR2 talent at a WR3ish DFS price. I prefer Woods to most of the receivers priced ahead of him, including Kupp, Davante Adams, Tyreek Hill, Stefon Diggs, Kenny Golladay, Tyler Lockett, Allen Robinson, D.J. Moore, Emmanuel Sanders and Odell Beckham.
Honorable Mentions: RB Todd Gurley, LAR at DAL ($6,000); RB Raheem Mostert, SF vs. ATL ($5,200); RB Patrick Laird, MIA at NYG ($4,500); WR Michael Gallup, DAL vs. LAR ($5,700); WR Chris Conley, JAX at OAK ($3,600)
Stacks are the centerpiece of any tournament lineup, seeking to take advantage of positive correlations between players. It rarely makes sense to use a quarterback without one or two of his pass catchers, even if the player in question scores a decent portion of his fantasy points with his legs. Ideally, a stack also includes a pass catcher from the other side of the contest, hoping to take advantage of a tight game where both teams are still chucking the ball around late in the fourth quarter. (Implied team totals are listed in parentheses.)
Texans (23.75) @ Titans (26.75)
This game has the largest over/under of Week 15, with the red-hot Titans playing host to an enigmatic Texans squad. Both teams like to run the ball on offense, but they also rank bottom 10 for pass defense DVOA and top half of the league for run defense DVOA. Injuries have taken a toll on both sides, with DE J.J. Watt (pectoral) out for the season and Tennessee potentially playing without three of its top four cornerbacks.
We also have Derrick Henry ($8,500) nursing a hamstring injury, which wasn't a problem last week but could inspire more volume for Ryan Tannehill ($6,500) and A.J. Brown ($6,000). I guess this is purely subjective, but I'm gonna go ahead and say it anyway: I don't think you'll go very far in life paying an all-time-high price for Tannehill in a spot where he won't even be low-owned. And as much as I love Brown, there are a slew of wideouts right in his price range averaging eight or more targets per game.
The Houston side of the contest thus looks more appealing, with Deshaun Watson ($6,800) and DeAndre Hopkins ($8,000) taking aim at that banged-up secondary. Will Fuller (hamstring, $5,600) is a sensible third wheel if he plays, while Kenny Stills ($4,100), Duke Johnson ($4,100) and Jordan Akins ($3,000) could see extra targets if the fleet-footed wideout misses another game. Akins took more work away from Darren Fells last week, something I discussed Tuesday in my Hidden Stat Line column (yup, that's another shameless plug 🙄).
If I'm bringing it back on the Tennessee side, I'll probably stick with Henry (assuming he's active) or go dumpster diving down to Corey Davis ($3,800) or Jonnu Smith ($3,500). Brown is awesome and clearly the No. 1 guy in Tennessee now, but should he really be $2,200 more expensive than Davis and $2,500 ahead of Smith?
- Best Stack: QB Watson + WR Hopkins
Rams(25) @ Cowboys (23.5)
I've already discussed my love for Robert Woods, and Todd Gurley ($6,000) isn't too far behind after back-to-back games with 20-plus touches and triple-digit yardage. We can also look to Jared Goff ($6,100) and Tyler Higbee ($3,900) against a crumbling Cowboys defense, perhaps even attempting to recapture the magic of a quad-stack from Week 13 at Arizona. I don't actually think that's the best idea, but I do consider it perfectly reasonable to roster three of the Rams, along with one of Michael Gallup ($5,700), Amari Cooper ($6,500) or Ezekiel Elliott ($7,800).
A Dak Prescott ($6,300) stack is no less appealing, with a lower-than-usual price making up for the suboptimal matchup. Prescott is averaging 350.8 passing yards and 2.3 total touchdowns in home games this year, with 21.6 or more DK points in each contest despite facing some solid defenses (Green Bay, Philadelphia, Minnesota, Buffalo). The Prescott-Gallup-Cooper triple stack is always valid, or we can use Zeke and just one of the WRs. I like Gallup best of that bunch, as Cooper likely will draw the Jalen Ramsey shadow while Randall Cobb ($4,400) gets Nickell Robey-Coleman in the slot. That said, Cooper and Cobb both make for reasonable plays at their current prices.
- Best Stack: QB Prescott + WR Gallup + WR Woods
Dolphins (21.5) @ Giants (25.0)
The Miami defense is that special kind of bad where I find myself doing crazy things like rostering whatever is left of Eli Manning ($5,200). I do think Saquon Barkley ($7,700) is the safer bet to come up big, but his contributions in the passing game make it reasonable to stack him with the 38-year-old quarterback.
We then get Golden Tate ($5,900), Sterling Shepard ($5,400) and Darius Slayton ($4,700) as WR options, with the latter showing the lowest price and highest ceiling. Shepard is arguably the safer bet to draw targets, while Tate feels like the worst of both worlds. Last but not least, Evan Engram ($4,900) will be worth a look if he finally makes it back from his foot injury.
The other side of the game is a confusing mess of injuries, with DeVante Parker and Albert Wilson recovering from concussions. Allen Hurns ($4,700) and Isaiah Ford ($3,700) are the next men up at WR, but the former feels a little pricey for a guy who already has been getting plenty of snaps and failing to do much of anything with them. Ford came out of nowhere with a 6-92-0 receiving line on nine targets last week against the Jets, and he now gets a similarly favorable matchup against the Giants' terrible cornerbacks.
Patrick Laird ($4,500) and Mike Gesicki ($4,000) are the other prominent pieces of Miami's offense, while Ryan Fitzpatrick ($6,200) is simply too expensive, especially if Parker doesn't play. Laird bumped up to 82 percent of snaps, 19 touches and 86 total yards last week, but his matchup isn't as good as what we see for Gesicki and the wide receivers, as the Giants have been surprisingly respectable against the run (12th in DVOA, 4th in YPC). Of course, Laird's price and pass-catching involvement make him a solid option even though ground-based expectations are modest.
- Best Stack: QB Manning + RB Barkley + RB Laird + WR Slayton
We can pair a running back with his team's defense to double our bet on favorable game script in certain matchups. Just keep in mind that the scoring correlations aren't nearly as strong as those between quarterbacks and pass catchers, so it isn't worth forcing into a lineup unless the prices for each individual commodity make sense. We also need to account for specialized backfield roles, i.e., using Marlon Mack rather than Nyheim Hines in conjunction with the Indianapolis defense.
- RB Aaron Jones ($7,300) + Packers D/ST ($3,000) vs. CHI
Jones has been the antithesis of consistency, producing five games with more than 27 DK points and another five with single digits. That's a trade off we're willing to accept in large-field DFS tournaments, hoping to cash in on the scenario where Green Bay gets off to a fast start in Sunday's game. Consider that the Packers defense has averaged 8.0 DK points in Jones' blow-up performances, compared to 4.9 points in the other nine games.
A matchup with Chicago might sound tricky for the 25-year-old running back, but it's a much easier draw now that DE Akiem Hicks (elbow) and ILB Roquan Smith (pectoral) are on injured reserve (plus, DE Roy Robertson-Harris (foot) and ILB Danny Trevathan (elbow) are in danger of missing Sunday's game). The weather forecast is a bonus, with temperatures below 20 degrees potentially encouraging more rushing. There's even some chance the Packers scale back their use of Jamaal Williams as they fight for the potential difference between a first-round bye and the NFC's No. 6 seed. Not that I'm holding my breath on the last one, but it's at least a possibility to add to the equation.
Correction: Hicks could be activated from injured reserve before Sunday's game (but I'd still like Jones just fine).
Honorable Mention: RB Saquon Barkley ($7,700) + Giants D/ST ($2,700) vs. MIA
- RB Saquon Barkley, NYG vs. MIA ($7,700)
The discrepancy between Barkley's recent production and his DFS price may seem difficult to stomach, but it can just as easily be argued that he's a bargain once we account for the combination of workload, talent and matchup. Barkley played 97, 95 and 94 percent of offensive snaps the past three weeks, taking 19, 22 and 20 touches against the Bears, Packers and Eagles. He should see a similar workload Sunday, only this time he'll be facing a defense that ranks 31st in DK points allowed to running backs and 29th in DVOA against the run. The lowly Giants have an implied total of 25 points.
Honorable Mentions: RB Christian McCaffrey, CAR vs. SEA ($10,000); RB Ezekiel Elliott, DAL vs. LAR ($7,800); RB Chris Carson, SEA at CAR ($7,500); WR DeAndre Hopkins, HOU at TEN ($8,000); WR Julian Edelman, NE at CIN ($7,100); WR Jarvis Landry, CLE at ARZ ($6,700); TE Zach Ertz, PHI at WAS ($6,000)
Fading the Field
Every week we see at least one or two players carrying high ownership without the backing of a top point-per-dollar projection. Recency bias is often to blame, but in some cases it even makes sense to fade a player with a strong projection, particularly when there are good alternatives at the same position and price range.
- TE Darren Waller, OAK vs. JAX ($5,500)
Waller figures to get some DFS traction against a sleepwalking Jacksonville defense, but I'm not so sure the "favorable matchup" actually works to his advantage. He's averaging 5.8 targets in wins and 8.3 in losses, with the Raiders typically going run-heavy whenever the circumstances have allowed for it. The matchup sets up best for Josh Jacobs ($7,000), or for DeAndre Washington ($4,700) if Jacobs isn't able to play. I don't see any reason to pay up for Waller when going a little bit higher should net a huge upgrade — Zach Ertz at $6,000, or perhaps George Kittle at $6,200. Even Austin Hooper ($5,000) against a tough Niners defense is a better play, potentially getting a volume boost with Calvin Ridley (abdomen) banished to IR.
The SMASH Spot
Volume is king, no doubt. But we still need to account for efficiency, pinpointing situations that give players good odds to outperform their typical marks for YPA, YPC or YPT.
- WR Jarvis Landry, CLE at ARZ ($6,700)
Landry has emerged as Cleveland's top weapon in the passing game ahead of a less-than-healthy Odell Beckham, averaging 6.3 catches for 79.4 yards and 0.7 touchdowns on 10.1 targets per game since a Week 7 bye. Landry has done that despite facing the Bills, Patriots, Broncos and Steelers (twice), blowing up for 10-148-2 in his lone cupcake matchup (Week 12 vs. MIA) during that stretch. He's set up nicely for both volume and efficiency this Sunday, facing a defense that's allowed a 71.2 percent catch rate (32nd) and 8.9 yards per target (26th) on passes to wide receivers. The Cardinals' struggles against tight ends have received most of the attention, but they've also done a terrible job defending WRs, particularly in the middle of the field.
Honorable Mention: RB Chris Carson, SEA at CAR ($7,500)
The Bargain Bin
QB Eli Manning, NYG vs. MIA ($5,200)
RB Patrick Laird, MIA at NYG ($4,500)
RB Duke Johnson, HOU at TEN ($4,100)
RB Boston Scott, PHI at WAS ($3,000)
WR Larry Fitzgerald, ARZ vs. CLE ($4,300)
WR Corey Davis, TEN vs. HOU ($3,800)
WR Chris Conley, JAX at OAK ($3,600)
WR Greg Ward, PHI at WAS ($3,000)
WR Keelan Cole, JAX at OAK ($3,000)
TE O.J. Howard, TB at DET ($3,500)
TE Jonnu Smith, TEN vs. HOU ($3,500)
TE Ian Thomas, CAR vs. SEA ($3,100)
TE Jordan Akins, HOU at TEN ($3,000)
D/ST Lions vs. TB ($2,300)
D/ST Cardinals vs. CLE ($2,200)
The "Sunday Scramble" doesn't need to be stressful. We can formulate plans ahead of time for the best way to respond once inactive lists are released.
- QB Jameis Winston (thumb), TB at DET
The Bucs are saying it's just a tiny fracture, but any fracture on a QB's throwing hand is scary for fantasy purposes. As such, I'm not sure how much a switch to Ryan Griffin ($4,300) would temper my interest in Chris Godwin ($7,700) or O.J. Howard ($3,500). In fact, I kind of like the idea of a Griffin-Godwin-Howard stack, potentially adding Kenny Golladay ($7,200) on the other side.
- RB Derrick Henry (hamstring), TEN vs. HOU
I'm not sure how we'll handle it if Henry unexpectedly ends up inactive. Dion Lewis ($3,700) lost some backup work to Khari Blasingame ($3,200) last week, so this isn't a situation like last season when we knew Lewis would get a bench of carries if Henry didn't play. In any case, it sounds like Henry is on track to suit up.
- RB Josh Jacobs (shoulder), OAK vs. JAX
Given his price, matchup and Week 14 production, DeAndre Washington ($4,700) would become my No. 1 value play at any position if Jacobs were to miss another game.
- RB Bo Scarbrough (ribs), DET vs. TB
Anybody want to do the Ty Johnson ($3,000) thing again? He and J.D. McKissic ($3,300) could be the last men standing, though we've already seen Matt Patricia pluck random guys off the street and give them carries ahead of Johnson.
This one was discussed above, with Allen Hurns ($4,700) and Isaiah Ford ($3,700) next in line for the vacated snaps, while Mike Gesicki ($4,000) and Patrick Laird ($4,500) could also absorb extra targets. I like Laird and Gesicki more than the wide receivers.
- WR Nelson Agholor (knee), PHI at WAS
Greg Ward ($3,000) got nine targets last week with both Agholor and Alshon Jeffery (IR-foot) out of the picture. I'd rather stick with the sure thing in Ertz, but there's reasonable logic to test out Ward, J.J. Arcega-Whiteside ($3,300) or Dallas Goedert ($4,300).
- TE Evan Engram (foot), NYG vs. MIA
I'll probably only consider Engram as part of a Manning stack, and even then it would be tough to pull the trigger without some positive reports before Sunday.
- TE Noah Fant (foot/hip), DEN at KC
An absence for Fant would bring Jeff Heuerman ($2,600) into play as a dirt-cheap TE for anyone who doesn't mind losing money. (This one is for my buddy for Ira).
- TE Gerald Everett (knee), LAR at DAL
A return to action for Everett would throw cold water on the Higbee party.
- TE Greg Olsen (concussion), CAR vs. SEA
Same deal for Olsen and Ian Thomas, who caught five of 10 targets for 57 yards and a touchdown last week. I'm guessing Thomas will make people angry this time around, but the price makes sense if you're committed to going cheap at tight end.
It looks like a pretty clean Sunday, with the biggest concerns being low temperatures in Green Bay (Bears-Packers) and maybe some wind in New Jersey (Dolphins-Giants). I'm avoiding pass catchers in the NFC North battle, but that's mostly based on price/matchup rather than weather.
Adjusting for FanDuel Prices
The prices listed in this article are from DraftKings, and while most of the logic applies to any DFS site, there are a few specific changes I'll need to apply for FanDuel:
- Baker Mayfield ($7,700) is priced at QB10, a much better value than QB5 on DK.
- Relatively speaking, Eli Manning ($6,800) is even cheaper on FD than he is on DK. However, we don't get as good of a price on Darius Slayton ($6,300) or Evan Engram ($6,400). Is this the right time to mention that I have a bad habit of interpreting any news regarding the Giants as a clear sign that Sterling Shepard ($5,900) is about to have a big game? I just can't stop rostering that guy, no matter how many times it burns me.
- Chris Carson ($7,400) priced at RB12, facing the league's worst run defense the week after Rashaad Penny suffered an ACL tear? Yes, please!
- Patrick Laird ($5,500) is my favorite discount RB play, though I suppose that's also true on DK.
- I haven't talked about him much, but I think Keenan Allen ($6,800) is a strong play on both sites. The Vikings' not-so-secret dirty little secret is that their cornerbacks kind of stink.
- I like A.J. Brown ($6,200) at this price a whole lot better than I like him at the DK price.
- Mike Gesicki ($5,200) is priced way down compared to DK, though probably not far enough to pull me away from Zach Ertz ($6,700). Love me some Ertz this week.