Start and Sit: Divisional Round
The Titans didn't need the once-forecasted rainstorm to commit to a run-dominated game plan and topple the Patriots last week. But extreme weather could still become a major factor in the playoffs this year, especially after trading two dome games from wild-card weekend for third and fourth outdoor contests in the divisional round.
The following tables feature the players with the best and worst matchups of the week. Each listed player shows a true-talent (TT) ranking that represents how I would rank him with a perfectly neutral game context. Then, that ranking is adjusted by adding the context of the venue (Ven) -- home and road and dome and outside -- the forecasted weather (Wea), and the defensive tendencies of the opponent (Def). The line beneath those rankings shows how much those contextual factors move projected PPR fantasy points. That total (Tot) number gives you a comprehensive estimate of how many fantasy points the player will score this week more or less than his typical total.
Lamar Jackson and Patrick Mahomes are the top two salaried DraftKings quarterbacks and the consensus choices for the top options at the position this week. But unlike DraftKings and I suspect most rankers, I have last year's MVP the No. 1 option. Mahomes draws a Texans defense that is No. 26 in DVOA against the pass. J.J. Watt may increase the Texans' defensive pressure rate, but he hasn't been enough to prevent the better passers like Drew Brees, Matt Ryan, and Mahomes himself from passing for 250-plus yards and two-plus touchdowns this season. In fact, the Texans increase their opponents' pass plays by 8% and passing touchdowns per attempt by 28%. Playing at home against that favorable defense, Mahomes jumps Jackson in my weekly rankings this week.
Jackson doesn't have a bad matchup this week. The Titans have the No. 21 pass defense DVOA and No. 10 run defense DVOA, a split that promotes' their opponents' pass plays by 5%. However, the Titans decrease passing touchdowns per attempt by 10%, and the combination of mild temperatures and heavy winds of 14 to 20 sustained mph will likely do more to hurt Jackson than Kansas City's cold temperatures and light wind will do to hurt Mahomes. Jackson's $8,400 price tag isn't prohibitive, he just isn't my favorite value this week.
DraftKings likely took the weather into account when they ranked Aaron Rodgers No. 5 among quarterbacks with a $6,500 salary this week. But I don't think his context is as bad as it seems. The chances of snow in Green Bay this Sunday have fallen to 15% at the time of this writing, and that will likely leave just freezing cold temperatures of 19 degrees. Extreme cold temperatures typically decrease quarterbacks' passing attempts and production, but that has not been the case for Rodgers over a pretty big sample of opportunities. In a dream scenario for a team like the Packers, Rodgers has averaged between 20.7 and 21.3 fantasy points per game below 30 degrees, between 30 and 50 degrees, and above 50 degrees since 2009. And given that Rodgers has seen his normal modest fantasy home-field advantage balloon to 4.1 more fantasy points per game at home than on the road with his new head coach Matt LaFleur, I'm more than willing to throw him in my daily lineups against the Seahawks' No. 15 pass defense DVOA. I ranked him third at the position this week.
Playing his home games in the moderate if often overcast and rainy Seattle, Russell Wilson has not had the same frequency of opportunities to clarify his cold weather acumen as Rodgers has. That said, Wilson has not thrived in his limited opportunities. In his three career starts with a kickoff temperature below 30 degrees, Wilson has averaged just 187 yards on a 57% completion rate with 1.3 touchdowns against 2.0 interceptions.
That five-interception game in Lambeau in 2016 shouldn't on its own dissuade you from relying on Wilson this week, but neither those Packers nor the 2014 Chiefs and 2015 Vikings were standout pass defenses. They all finished in the middle third of pass defense DVOA in the seasons when Wilson faced them in cold temperatures. If you're reluctant to draw conclusions based on so small a sample, I think it's fair to assume Wilson follows the broader trend of declining quarterback production in cold weather, a trend that his opponent Rodgers has bucked in his career.
And if all of that weren't enough, Wilson has one of the bigger home/road splits at the position with a +5.4 fantasy point home advantage this season and a +2.4 home advantage since 2017, and his Packers opponent has a stronger pass defense (No. 10 DVOA) than run defense (No. 23 DVOA) and cuts passing touchdowns by 12% per attempt. Wilson bests the non-prolific passers like Jimmy Garoppolo and Ryan Tannehill in my rankings this week, but he doesn't justify his $6,600 DraftKings price tag that has him No. 4 at the position.
If you're set on using a road quarterback this week, then I think that passer has to be Deshaun Watson. His opponent, the Chiefs, have a much stronger pass defense (No. 6) than run defense (No. 29) and decrease passing yards and touchdowns by 9% and 20% respectively. But they do counterbalance a bit of that decrease in efficiency by promoting pass plays by 6%. If the Texans fall behind, then Watson will likely score some fantasy points. Just be careful. Watson also has an extreme home/road split, scoring 4.1 more fantasy points per game at home than on the road this year and 2.2 since 2017.
Meanwhile, I just wouldn't use either Kirk Cousins or Ryan Tannehill this week. The 49ers and Ravens are both top-five in pass defense DVOA. The former cuts pass plays by 10%, passing yards per attempt by 19%, and passing touchdowns per attempt by 12%. The latter cuts passing yards and touchdowns by 10% and 42%, respectively. And Tannehill has shown an extreme home/road split this season -- scoring 5.4 more fantasy points per game at home than on the road -- and likely suffers more for the heavy winds in Baltimore than Jackson will with his dual threat nature. Both Cousins and Tannehill are priced down for their bad contexts, but I project them to land in the ballpark of half as many points as Mahomes and Jackson. Save your money elsewhere in your lineups.
My optimism for Aaron Rodgers has a cascading effect on his skill talent. I actually rank Aaron Jones No. 1 among running backs this week, edging out Derrick Henry despite a noticeable handicap in rushing yards thanks to his contributions as a receiver. But Jones wouldn't need a positive passing context to thrive in fantasy this week. The colder weather promotes rushing on its own, and the Seahawks are one of the best rushing matchups in football. They have the No. 26 run defense DVOA, increase rushing yards per attempt by 13%, and increase rushing touchdowns per attempt by 67%. They even allow 51 receiving yards per game to running backs, the fourth-most in football. At just $7,400 in DraftKings, Jones is a definite player to build your lineups around.
With some of those Green Bay weather issues buoying the backs for both teams, Travis Homer and Marshawn Lynch are compelling choices this week as well. The Seahawks' offensive line is missing some key pieces like Duane Brown that make even their middle-of-the-pack 4.32 adjusted line yards from the regular season look enticing. But I still think the dreadful collective 1.1 yards per carry Homer and Lynch managed in their wild-card game said more about their opponent than their talent and team circumstances. The Eagles are the No. 4 run defense DVOA. Things should get much easier against a Packers defense that is stronger against the pass (No. 10 DVOA) than the run (No. 23). They increase their opponents' rushing yards per attempt by 9% and rushing touchdowns per attempt by 14%. The trick then may be deciding between the two Seahawks backs. As the primary receiving back, Homer is the more obvious choice and more expensive option in DraftKings ($5,100 to $4,800). But I rank Lynch two spots higher this week. I may be foolish to buy into head coach Pete Carroll's suggestion that Lynch will play more this week, but even if you took away the 4.3-carry advantage I projected for Lynch, he would still project to have about double the chances of scoring a touchdown as his teammate Homer.
Even with the lack of clarity, projecting Homer and Lynch was child's play compared to deciphering the Chiefs backfield. Head coach Andy Reid may simply have been resting LeSean McCoy in Weeks 16 and 17 to keep him fresh for the playoffs. But early-season starter Damien Williams took that opportunity and ran with it to the tune of 246 total yards and three touchdowns on 6.8 yards per carry the last two weeks. I've projected him for more touches than McCoy and rookie Darwin Thompson combined, and if he gets that heavy workload, Williams will likely excel. The Texans have the No. 22 run defense DVOA and rank 27th by DVOA in pass coverage against running backs (subscription required), allowing 56 receiving yards per game to the position. He has downside that Jones and Henry don't, but I still think Williams is a good value at just $6,000 in DraftKings, fifth-highest at the position. I ranked him fourth for the week.
At this point, the Chiefs are infamous for the disparity between their pass defense (No. 6 DVOA) and run defense (No. 29). But given my concerns for a potential Chiefs blowout that would likely limit Carlos Hyde's opportunities to take advantage of that defensive weakness, I might rather play Texans receiving back Duke Johnson. They Chiefs aren't just bad against backs on their carries, they are also No. 20 in DVOA in coverage against running backs and allow 58 receiving yards per game to the position, the most in football. If you want an inexpensive option to fill a roster, Johnson is a prudent choice. His $4,700 price tag has him 11th at the position this week, a spot behind my ranking for him.
The two backs with obvious bad matchups this week are also the two you'd likely most want to start. Derrick Henry and Dalvin Cook are both on the road. The former draws a Ravens defense that, while not standout against the run (No. 19 DVOA), cuts run plays by 18% and rushing touchdowns per attempt by 11%. Henry powered through any matchup concerns with 35 total touches against the Patriots last week, but if the game script falls out of the Titans' favor, he could easily be limited to closer to 20 touches without the receiving boost a player like Aaron Jones should enjoy. Cook draws a 49ers defense that is also stronger against the pass (No. 2 DVOA) than the run (No. 11 DVOA) but is also worse for fantasy than reality, cutting rushing touchdowns per attempt by 22%. As my No. 2 and No. 3 backs this week, you can certainly play Henry and Cook without any great concern for their $8,200 and $8,000 price tags. But if I only had one lineup to build, I'd build it around Jones and his clearly better value proposition.
There may not be a defense equipped to limit the speedy Tyreek Hill in fantasy, but if there is, it certainly isn't the Texans. Beyond their No. 26-ranked pass defense DVOA, the Texans allow 76 yards per game to No. 1 receivers, ninth most in football. They increase pass plays by 8% and passing touchdowns per attempt by 28%. Hill is a strong bet to turn in a big-play touchdown, and his $7,600 DraftKings salary is appropriate given his tremendous potential.
The Vikings are more fearsome for opposing receivers than the Texans, in general. They have the No. 7 pass defense DVOA and decrease passing yards and touchdowns per attempt by 6% and 24%. But the Vikings have seen their top-end cornerback play erode from previous elite seasons and are just No. 21 in DVOA against No. 1 receivers this year, allowing 77 yards per game, seventh-most in football. The question then becomes whether Emmanuel Sanders or Deebo Samuel is that player for the 49ers. Sanders' $200 surplus over Samuel in DraftKings says it's him, but I ranked Samuel six spots higher this week. Even including his Week 14 outburst against the Saints, Sanders is averaging just 4.9 targets, 3.1 receptions, and 46 yards per game and has just one touchdown since the start of November. Samuel started his rookie season slowly, but he has outproduced Sanders by 1.3 targets, 1.3 receptions, and 26 yards per game over that stretch and has three more total touchdowns. I honestly don't understand Samuel's modest $5,200 price tag. He's my No. 5 receiver this week and a fixture in my daily lineups.
I'm not as convinced I have the pecking order between Stefon Diggs and Adam Thielen figured out. Even when they've shared the field this season, Diggs has outpaced Thielen by 1.5 targets per game. But Thielen has been hurt frequently even while he's played. Last Sunday, he finally looked healthy and victimized the Saints' No. 1 corner Marshon Lattimore to the tune of 129 yards on seven catches. I ended up projecting both receivers for between six and seven targets this week, but it might be smarter to simply avoid the headache given that they share a bad matchup against the 49ers. The 49ers are a top-10 defense in DVOA against both No. 1 and against "other" wide receivers. They allow just 55 yards per game to the former group, fewest in football, and just 37 yards per game to the latter group, sixth-fewest. I ranked Thielen definitively lower at 10th among receivers than DraftKings did with their $6,200 salary for him. I have Diggs relatively higher, but that almost certainly comes out of a target share I skewed more in his direction, a choice I have little confidence I made correctly.
A.J. Brown was the most productive rookie receiver during the regular season, but I expect him to fall short of fellow rookie DK Metcalf again this week, even with both players hurt by bad matchups. The Ravens pass defense isn't as uniformly excellent as last week's Patriots, but they can similarly shut down No. 1 receivers. They are No. 6 in DVOA against that group, allowing them just 56 yards per game. Marlon Humphrey won't win Defensive Player of the Year, but his 64% coverage success rate and 5.9 allowed yards per target are both better than Stephon Gilmore and top-10 among qualified corners (subscription required). And he will likely shadow Brown this week.
The Packers have their own shutdown corner in Jaire Alexander, but Alexander is just 5-foot-10 and 196 pounds. It probably makes more sense for the team to have Alexander follow the smaller and quicker Tyler Lockett while the bigger Kevin King (6-foot-3 and 200 pounds) shadows Metcalf. That should be good news for Metcalf since King's 51% coverage success rate is 9% less than Alexander's. It's still a bad matchup on the road and in the cold, but I have Metcalf fourth at the position this week, a placement his $6,800 price tag justifies. Meanwhile, Brown falls short of that standard with a $6,000 salary and the No. 8 spot in my weekly receiver rankings.
The gulf in talent and productivity between the top tight end targets and the rest of the options at the position this week will likely draw you to the former group. And given their positive matchups, I suggest you give in to that temptation. For me, it's a debate at the top between Travis Kelce and George Kittle, and I think Kelce wins it on the strength of his relative defensive matchup. The Texans are No. 15 in DVOA against tight ends and allow 58 yards per game to the position, 11th-most in football. The Vikings allow similar yardage on average at 51 yards per game, but they are actually the No. 1 defense in DVOA against the position. Given the 49ers' unusual depth at the skill positions, they are equipped to pivot their targets to their backs and receivers to better take advantage of the Vikings' defensive weaknesses. That isn't enough to drop Kittle behind No. 3 tight end Mark Andrews for me, but it makes Kelce's just $200 surplus an easy price to pay for a near five-point advantage in projected points.
If you need to save money at the position, my favorite cheap value is the Packers' Jimmy Graham. The Seahawks are just middle-of-the-pack with the No. 17 defense DVOA against tight ends, but they allow the third-most yardage to the position at 68 yards per game. Meanwhile, any severe weather in Green Bay would likely benefit Graham (9.6-yard average depth of target) to the detriment of deeper aDOT targets like Marquez Valdes-Scantling (16.7) and Allen Lazard (14.2). I have Graham eighth at the position this week, one spot ahead of where his $3,300 salary slots him.
You probably aren't eager to start Jonnu Smith after his tight end teammate Anthony Firkser scored the Titans' only touchdown and secured their critical third-down conversion in the fourth quarter last week. That may not be the right reasoning, but it's the right inclination. Smith will likely be hurt by the venue in Baltimore, windy conditions, and a Ravens opponent that is No. 10 in DVOA against tight ends and allows just 36 yards per game to the position, second-fewest in football. With several non-elite tight ends having similar DraftKings prices, I recommend you select one playing in more favorable circumstances.
Kyle Rudolph isn't the right answer, either. He salvaged an otherwise poor performance in a bad contest last week with a game-winning touchdown, but that will be a tougher save this week against the 49ers. They are No. 2 in DVOA against tight ends and allow just 34 yards per game to the position, the fewest in football. Meanwhile, the 49ers also decrease passing touchdowns per attempt by 12% in general. A lack of true second-tier options at the position leaves Rudolph fourth for me at the position this week, but it's a distant fourth, more than four projected fantasy points behind Andrews in third place.