DFS Tournament Guide: NFL Wild-Card Round

DFS Tournament Guide: NFL Wild-Card Round

This article is part of our DFS Tournament Guide series.

For most of the season, NFL daily fantasy is dominated by one-game slates and slates with double-digit games. The playoffs essentially provide our lone opportunity for something different, featuring four matchups both of the next two weekends. 

I wouldn't say the strategy is drastically different, but it does tend to be a bit more difficult to find value, which makes correlation plays even more of a priority. I'm willing to use four, five or even six players from a single game, whereas my stacks during the regular season typically go just three or four deep.

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. We're discussing the main slate that includes all four games throughout wild-card weekend.

Point-Per-Dollar Value

The Bills used Singletary on 96 percent of snaps in their crucial Week 16 matchup with New England, giving him 21 carries and three targets against arguably the best defense in the league. I'm not saying the rookie is assured of an every-down role in the playoffs, but the mere possibility makes him a good DFS play at this price. Singletary was consistently busy even before the aforementioned AFC East battle, notching five consecutive games with no fewer than 16 touches on no less than 70% of snaps. The rookie is due for some positive touchdown regression, even after we account for the possibility of Frank Gore continuing to steal goal-line work. For what it's worth, the Bills kept Singletary in the game for short-yardage situations Week 16, including a five-yard gain on a 3rd-and-1 and Josh Allen's QB sneak on a 4th-and-1 in the fourth quarter.

Honorable Mentions: WR Michael Thomas, NO vs. MIN ($9,300); RB Alvin Kamara, NO vs. MIN ($7,400); WR Julian Edelman, NE vs. TEN ($6,500)

Passing-Game Stacks

The reality of a four-game slate is that it's a reasonable strategy to stack any of the contests. I'll restrict the discussion to my two favorites, but that doesn't mean it's difficult to make a good lineup that primarily relies on one of the other games.

Vikings (20.75) @ Saints (28.75)

This game easily has the largest over/under (49.5) on the wild-card slate, 3.5 points ahead of the Seattle-Philadelphia matchup. It also has the largest point spread, with seemingly the entire universe in agreement that the Saints will emerge victorious. The good news is that blowouts are less of a concern for game stacks in the playoffs, when teams are less likely to ease up on their top players. Also, the Vikings are a pretty good team, finishing the regular season at No. 7 in both point differential (+104) and total DVOA (15.4%).

Drew Brees ($6,600) and Michael Thomas ($9,300) have been dominant in home games this year, but Alvin Kamara ($7,400) may actually be the best bargain, considering his workload tends to increase in crucial games. That's not to say Latavius Murray ($5,000) won't have any role at all; just don't expect double-digit touches, i.e., he's an easy fade for me at the DraftKings price.

Jared Cook ($4,900) and Tre'Quan Smith ($4,000) also make sense for a Brees stack, with the latter perhaps making it possible to cram Brees, Kamara and Thomas into a single lineup. Note that Smith has been working ahead of Ted Ginn ($3,600), who saw just four targets and 62 snaps over the final three weeks of the season (compared to eight and 126 for Smith). I'm happy to spend the extra $400 for a better volume projection, especially given that both players figure to be fairly low-owned.

The other side of the game also favors expensive players, with Dalvin Cook ($7,800) notably carrying his lowest price since Week 3, albeit against a defense that's No. 5 in DVOA against the run and No. 7 in DraftKings points allowed to running backs. There's also the matter of Cook coming back from a shoulder injury, though full practice participation Wednesday and Thursday suggests he should be fine to retake the lead role (avoiding re-injury could be a different matter). Apart from the price tag, the argument in favor of Cook is similar to that for Kamara: his team no longer cares about mixing in other running backs to help keep him healthy. Those carries that went to Alexander Mattison throughout the season may be added to Cook's plate in the playoffs.

In terms of pass catchers, I have no clue how to decide between Stefon Diggs ($6,600) and Adam Thielen ($6,200), as the latter has typically been more productive (and more expensive for DFS) throughout their respective careers, but it's been three full months since Thielen's last useful outing. Honestly, I'll probably just avoid the matter, as I don't have much interest in playing Kirk Cousins ($6,100) over Brees when the game is in New Orleans and it saves just $500 of budget. I prefer the challenge of somehow figuring out a way to fit Brees, Kamara, Dalvin and Can'tGuardMike in a lineup.

  • Best Stack: QB Brees + RB Cook + RB Kamara + WR Thomas + WR Smith

Bills (20.75) @ Texans (23.25)

I suppose my interest in stacking this game begins with skepticism about the point spread. Houston has quarterback play, home-field advantage and maybe special teams working in its favor, but pretty much everything else — coaching, defense, blocking — favors the visitors. The Texans are the lone 2019 playoff team with a negative point differential (-7) and also the worst of the bunch, by far, in terms of  total DVOA (-5.8%, 19th). Granted the Bills finished with a plus-55 differential and No. 13 DVOA ranking, metrics that pretty much align with their 10-6 record.

The return of DE J.J. Watt (pectoral) perhaps provides some hope for a bad Texans defense, but it was a mediocre unit even with the full-strength version of Watt earlier this year. The version of Watt we see Saturday likely will be something less.

In any case, I've already discussed the merits of Devin Singletary ($6,000) as a sneaky value play, facing a defense ranked 22nd in DVOA against the run and 27th in DK points allowed to RBs. The Texans have been even more generous against quarterbacks (29th), and Josh Allen ($6,500) has a pretty consistent track record of putting up nice fantasy totals against bad defenses even when he isn't great from a real-life standpoint (rushing stats >>>).

I'll discuss my love for Cole Beasley ($5,600) if you scroll down to the bottom of the page, but don't take that as a slight against John Brown ($6,000), who also makes for a solid play and arguably a better stacking partner with Allen given the nature of his targets (read: deep).

On the other side of the game, Deshaun Watson at $6,400 is a solid choice even in a tough matchup, but I'm less willing to roll out DeAndre Hopkins ($7,700) in a likely shadow date with top cornerback Tre'Davious White. I'd rarely play Watson without Hopkins in the same lineup, but this is the rare situation where I'm considering it. The problem? We don't have an obvious replacement, as Will Fuller V (groin, $4,900) may or may not be available. 

I think the hesitance to use Hopkins combined with confusion about the other options will lead to Watson having surprisingly low ownership for a superstar QB on a four-game slate. I'm not at all opposed to getting creative, which could mean Kenny Stills ($4,600), Duke Johnson ($4,400), Darren Fells ($3,000) or Jordan Akins ($2,800), plus DeAndre Carter ($3,400) if Fuller is ruled out.

Akins is one of my favorite punt plays on the slate, as he's been running more routes than Fells since Houston's Week 10 bye. Akins ran 139 routes to Fells' 119 from Weeks 11-16 (per PFF), also holding a small advantage in terms of targets (20 to 17). Consider it a bonus that Akins put up 5-54-0 on seven targets in a meaningless Week 17 contest, perhaps making his case for more looks this weekend.

Late Note: Akins was added to the injury report Thursday, with the Texans listing him as questionable for Saturday's game. Plug in Fells as the punt TE play if Akins is inactive.

  • Best Stack: QB Allen + RB Singletary + WR Beasley + WR Brown + WR F

RB-Defense Pairing

Let's be honest here. There isn't much reason to have faith in Michel, who rarely catches passes and averaged 3.7 yards per carry during the regular season. However, he's the cheapest lead back on the WC slate, and we can pretty much guarantee he'll get a large workload if the Patriots defense shuts down Tennessee (far from a sure thing, admittedly). Plus, Michel finished his disappointing season on a high note, producing three straight games with 18 or more carries and 4.1 YPC or better. I don't consider this a priority strategy, but it's viable if you're looking for a correlation play with modest ownership. I think I've already talked myself out of it...

Honorable Mention: RB Devin Singletary ($6,000) + Bills D/ST ($3,100); RB Carlos Hyde ($5,100) + Texans D/ST ($2,600)

High-Priced Hero

The Vikings have allowed the fourth-most DK points to wide receivers, with supposed top cornerback Xavier Rhodes yielding 59 catches for 707 yards and four touchdowns on 70 targets, per PFF. Among 95 cornerbacks with 300 or more cover snaps, Rhodes is tied for 82nd at 1.51 yards allowed per snap. The Vikings could try to avoid the mismatch by keeping Rhodes away from Thomas, except that fellow CBs Trae Waynes and Mike Hughes haven't been much better, both allowing 1.42 yards per cover snap (t-72nd). Thomas, of course, has been an absolute monster at the Superdome this year, averaging 10.9 catches for 128.4 yards and 0.75 touchdowns, including five games with more than 30 DK points.

Honorable Mentions: RB Dalvin Cook, MIN at NO ($7,800); RB Alvin Kamara, NO vs. MIN ($7,400)

Fading the Field

Bill Belichick made an interesting comment during his Thursday media session, proclaiming that Smith is "probably the best" at gaining yards after the catch among NFL tight ends. I tend to favor George Kittle, but Belichick's general point is a good one, with Smith averaging 8.1 YAC this season and 9.2 in 2018, per PFF. The problem? Smith isn't one of the league's best at getting open and catching passes, which explains — at least partially — why it's been nearly two months since he saw more than five targets in a game. The Titans actually use Anthony Firkser rather than Smith for some of their passing downs, and Smith also loses a few snaps per game to pass blocking. 

As a result, Smith has been limited to 103 routes on 176 QB dropbacks (58.5 percent) since a Week 11 bye, far behind A.J. Brown (91.4 percent) and even Corey Davis (77.8 percent), per PFF. I'd rather pay more for safer volume with Dallas Goedert ($5,200), Jared Cook ($4,900) or Jacob Hollister ($4,300), or else go further down the price scale if I'm taking on the goose-egg floor, e.g., Joshua Perkins ($2,900) or Jordan Akins ($2,800). 

Other Fades: RB Derrick Henry, TEN at NE ($8,200); WR Tyler Lockett, SEA vs. PHI ($7,200); RB James White, NE vs. TEN ($5,700); TE Kyle Rudolph, MIN at NO ($3,500)

The SMASH Spot

The Texans tried to polish the turd with a new uniform, but Vernon Hargreaves has proven to be the same disaster we all saw in Tampa Bay, allowing 24 catches for 274 yards and three touchdowns on 32 targets in six games for Houston, per PFF. Among 32 cornerbacks with 200 or more slot-coverage snaps, Hargreaves ranks 30th in yards allowed per cover snap (1.67), with an overall PFF grade (47.4) that's tied for 116th among 125 qualified players at his position. 

Beasley, on the other hand, came on strong late in the year, benefiting from increased playing time in his past six games. He ran a route on 95.1 percent of QB dropbacks during that stretch, up from 79.1 percent in his first nine games of the year, per PFF. The extra playing time translated to improved production, with the slot man averaging 4.7 catches for 61.2 yards and 0.5 TDs in the six-game span, taking on a team-high 26 percent target share. For a point of reference, there were only five WRs to finish the regular season with target share above 25 percent in their active games: Michael Thomas (32 percent), DeAndre Hopkins (30), Davante Adams (29), Allen Robinson (27) and Jarvis Landry (26).

Honorable Mention: WR DK Metcalf, SEA at PHI ($6,100); 

The Bargain Bin

QB Tom Brady, NE vs. TEN ($5,800)

RB Sony Michel, NE vs. TEN ($4,600)

RB Rex Burkhead, NE vs. TEN ($4,500)

RB Duke Johnson, HOU vs. BUF ($4,400)

WR N'Keal Harry, NE vs. TEN ($4,100)

WR Tre'Quan Smith, NO vs. MIN ($4,000

WR Mohamed Sanu, NE vs. TEN ($3,900)

WR Corey Davis, TEN at NE ($3,800)

WR David Moore, SEA at PHI ($3,400)

TE Joshua Perkins, PHI vs. SEA ($2,900)

TE Jordan Akins, HOU vs. BUF ($2,800)

D/ST Texans vs. BUF ($2,600)

Injury Situations

An absence for WV5 likely would give DeAndre Carter ($3,400) a spot in three-wide formations, and it might also encourage an uptick in two-TE sets. However, my real interest here is the possibility of getting Fuller for just $4,900, albeit in a difficult matchup and with a high risk of re-injury (or just a new injury, because Will Fuller). The ceiling is always high, and the price is lower than usual.

Akins was added to the injury report Thursday, listed as questionable after a limited practice. An absence for Saturday's game could free up extra routes and targets for Fells, or perhaps create an opening for forgotten man Jordan Thomas ($2,500). The reasonable strategy points to Fells as a punt play if Akins is out, though most will probably just ignore the situation entirely.

It's kind of hard to make decisions on this slate without knowing if Boston Scott ($5,800) and Dallas Goedert ($5,200) will be working as sidekicks or stars. It sounds like Ertz will play through considerable pain if he's able to suit up, and that's not something I want any part of at the $6,000 price tag. Sanders for $6,200 doesn't seem much better, with his absence from practice both Wednesday and Thursday suggesting he could be limited even if he's active. I'll play Goedert if Ertz sits or Scott if Sanders sits, but otherwise I'm mostly avoiding the Eagles. I guess Greg Ward ($5,200) is an acceptable play, but the value isn't really there anymore.

Seattle's No. 3 WR role has been split between Turner, Jaron Brown (knee) and David Moore, rendering all of them useless for fantasy purposes. With Brown already out and Turner potentially joining him, Moore ($3,400) could be one of the few viable punt plays on this slate. He handled 72% snap share Week 17 against the 49ers, catching two passes for 30 yards on two targets.

Roby is merely decent and Joseph is past his prime, but both are probably better than backups Gareon Conley and Lonnie Johnson. Consider it an upgrade for both Josh Allen ($6,500) and John Brown ($6,000) if the Texans are shorthanded at cornerback, while Cole Beasley ($5,600) has a great matchup either way.

Weather Watch

The forecasts call for light rain in New England on Saturday and winds around 10-15 mph in Philadelphia on Sunday. Neither game appears problematic at the moment, but it will be worth keeping an eye on this weekend. Note that a November matchup between the Seahawks and Eagles was impacted by wind, with both Russell Wilson and Carson Wentz struggling in a 17-9 Seahawks victory.

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 might apply for FanDuel:

  • Josh Allen ($7,800) is priced at QB5 rather than QB3, and he's arguably more valuable on a site without yardage bonuses, which help Brees more than the other quarterbacks.
  • Devin Singletary ($6,200) is a must-play at this price, cheaper than the likes of Sony Michel and Boston Scott. Easy money!
  • The pricing and scoring format favor Dalvin Cook ($8,000) over Alvin Kamara ($8,200) relative to DraftKings, but I still think AK is a solid play.
  • Adam Thielen ($6,200) is really cheap. I don't trust it, but when has that ever stopped me?
  • DK Metcalf ($6,200) is another nice bargain relative to the DK price.

Good Luck!

The author(s) of this article may play in daily fantasy contests including – but not limited to – games that they have provided recommendations or advice on in this article. In the course of playing in these games using their personal accounts, it's possible that they will use players in their lineups or other strategies that differ from the recommendations they have provided above. The recommendations in this article do not necessarily reflect the views of RotoWire. Jerry Donabedian plays in daily fantasy contests using the following accounts: FanDuel: jd0505, DraftKings: jd0505.
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Jerry Donabedian
Jerry was a 2018 finalist for the FSWA's Player Notes Writer of the Year and DFS Writer of the Year awards. A Baltimore native, Jerry roots for the Ravens and watches "The Wire" in his spare time.
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