Pat James highlights strategies and plays for Conference Championship Weekend on DraftKings.
AFC Championship Game
Jaguars at Patriots
Vegas Implied Score: Patriots 27.75 – Jaguars 18.75
I honestly don’t think there is any matchup that would scare me away from rostering the Patriots, especially since we witnessed the Jags get torched by a good Steelers offense in the divisional round. Tom Brady projects for the best raw point total on the week, however Blake Bortles could end up being the best bang for your buck. The Patriots allow the fourth-most fantasy points to opposing quarterbacks, and Bortles could be in a situation where he is throwing often. While volume doesn’t always lead to fantasy points, you also don’t want them to have a big lead either. I’m guessing the top-scoring quarterback on the slate will come from this game.
The running back position is dicey for the Patriots but pretty clear cut for the Jaguars. It looks like there will be a three-headed monster for the Patriots with Rex Burkhead returning to join Dion Lewis and James White in the backfield. I can’t imagine the Patriots immediately thrust Burkhead into a heavy dose of playing time, but he and White should now split passing-down work. It’s smart to have a piece of each in tournaments because you never know what Bill Belichick is going to pull with his RBs.
Lewis remains the safest option, but his price tag makes him a fairly prohibitive play. The Jaguars defense allows the fourth-most points to RBs, so it’s conceivable that the Patriots’ game plan is to pound the football as much as possible. Even if Burkhead eats into Lewis’ workload a little bit, $8,100 is still reasonably fair.
Leonard Fournette will probably be super popular after his outing last week, but the Patriots run defense has been much better than their pass defense, ranking seventh in fantasy points allowed. Paying up for Lewis is the smarter move, especially with the projected game script. Depending on who else is active for the Jaguars, a T.J. Yeldon flier could be warranted.
Winning a GPP, or even cash games in a small slate, usually comes down to who gets the not-so-obvious calls correct. In this game, that will probably be the pass-catchers. The Patriots have the toughest possible matchup as the Jaguars rank first in fantasy points allowed to wide receivers. Conversely the Patriots rank 28th.1 I’d rank the Jaguars WRs Marqise Lee, Dede Westbrook, and Keelan Cole. Lee should see the most targets, followed by Westbrook. Cole probably has the best big play potential for tournaments.
The Patriots receiving group is just as muddied. With the two elite corners on the outside in Jalen Ramsey and A.J. Bouye, I’m betting on a similar target distribution to last week in which Rob Gronkowski, Danny Amendola, and the RBs get involved heavily. Brandin Cooks and Chris Hogan will be tournament plays only.
Cash/GPP game options: Tom Brady, Dion Lewis, Danny Amendola, Rob Gronkowski, Blake Bortles, Marqise Lee
GPP-Only Options: Brandin Cooks, Chris Hogan, James White, Rex Burkhead, Dede Westbrook, Keelan Cole
One lineup fliers: Marcedes Lewis, T.J. Yeldon
NFC Championship Game
Vikings at Eagles
Vegas Implied Score: Vikings 20.75 – Eagles 17.25
Logically, this game should have less fantasy firepower than the AFC Championship. The game boasts a significantly lower total, a backup quarterback (technically two), and two very good defenses. Case Keenum is much more palatable than Nick Foles in this matchup, which I think is fairly obvious. The Eagles rank 21st in fantasy points allowed to QBs, while the Vikings are the third stingiest. The game plan from both sides will probably be to involve the run game heavily while managing the game through the air with two inexperienced QBs. On a two-game slate anything can happen, but these two QBs will be exclusively GPP plays.
As previously mentioned, establishing the run game will be paramount for both offenses. The crux of the matter is both defenses defend the run very well. The Vikings rank first in fantasy points allowed and second in yards allowed to RBs. The Eagles rank second in points allowed and first in yards allowed to the position. It’s going to be tough sledding for Latavius Murray, Jerick McKinnon, Jay Ajayi, and LeGarrette Blount.
My favorite RB play from this game is McKinnon. The Eagles have a very strange rotation where Ajayi sometimes takes a series or two off in a row, which obviously isn’t optimal. McKinnon offers the quick burst and pass-catching upside. Murray comes in as a close second, having racked up an average of 20 carries over the last four games. I’ll sprinkle in the Eagles backs, but I’ll be extremely underweight on them.
The pass catchers are the most intriguing part of this game. With the Eagles ranking 18th in fantasy points allowed to WRs, Adam Thielen and Stefon Diggs are fine plays in all formats. However, even a player like Jarius Wright is playable in tournaments. He was targeted six times last week, and the Eagles are most vulnerable against “other WRs” according to Football Outsiders’ DVOA metric.2
Kyle Rudolph is the cheapest tight end I’m comfortable rostering in cash, though Gronkowski remains a priority. Trying to decipher which Eagles pass catchers to target is a bit tough, but Nelson Agholor would be my first preference. Alshon Jeffery’s outlook is grim since he’ll see a lot of Xavier Rhodes. Zach Ertz has been a high-floor option all season, but against this Vikings’ defense, you’re better served moving up to Gronk or down to Rudolph in cash games.
Cash/GPP Options: Jerick McKinnon, Latavius Murray, Adam Thielen, Stefon Diggs, Nelson Agholor, Kyle Rudolph
GPP-Only Options: Case Keenum, Nick Foles, Jay Ajayi, Zach Ertz, Alshon Jeffery
One Lineup Fliers: Jarius Wright, Torrey Smith, LeGarrette Blount
Short Slate Strategy
- Enter your optimal lineup into cash games. Create your cash game lineup as you would on a full slate, by maximizing point per dollar projections. Play the obvious studs and values without putting much thought into ownership.
- In tournaments, focus on a narrow pool of players. Attempting to “cover all the bases” by getting a piece of all the players on the slate is sub-optimal. Choose a narrow core of players and rotate in supplementary pieces when building multiple lineups.
- Correctly fading a highly owned player is magnified. Correctly fading or being underweight on a chalky player on a short slate creates massive leverage. Mainly because the ownership percentages are inflated. By the same token, if you fade a player that is highly owned who subsequently has a monster fantasy day, you’re drawing dead. However, winning a tournament on a short slate requires these tough decisions.
- Utilize a game stack. Pegging the game that will shootout on a short slate and rostering multiple players from that game uses correlation to limit the amount of independent outcomes you need to have correct. Even better if you think Vegas could be wrong about one of the lower total games on the slate.
- Leave some salary on the table. An easy way to be contrarian in tournaments is to not max out the salary cap. This strategy is helpful for me especially because I don’t have an inherently contrarian DFS mind.
- Utilize late swap. Use late swap to move on to lightly-owned players. This is something you should always do with lineups that have underperformed in earlier games, but on a short slate it could vault you from last to cashing with the right move. Your low-scoring teams aren’t going to move up the leaderboard with players that are 80 percent owned. It may feel uncomfortable to swap from Dion Lewis to James White, but it’s most likely your only shot.
In cash, we can simply roster what we see as the optimal lineup, but in tournaments you have to get weird at one or two positions. This contrarian lineup construction can be achieved by adding a lightly-owned player to a stack, fading a heavily-owned player, or leveraging how an expected outcome occurs (Patriots score 35, but all on rushing TDs).