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The FFPC Playoff Challenge: Chalk Plays, Pivots and Ownership Projections

The FFPC Playoff Challenge is a contest playoff tournament with 6,500 teams and over $1.1 million in prizes and a $500,000 grand prize. The rules of the contest are simple — as you can see in Hasan Rahim’s 2018 write up:

There is no draft, each owner simply selects a roster of 10 players (1-QB, 2-RB, 2-WR, 1-TE, 2-Flex, 1-K, 1-D; Flex can be RB, WR or TE) with the caveat being that you may only select one player from each team. This team is your roster for the entire duration of the playoffs. No add/drops, no setting line-ups. The only other wrinkle is that the Super Bowl will count as double the points (2 points per reception, 12 points per touchdown, etc.). Otherwise, this is traditional FFPC scoring, which includes 1.5 points per reception for tight ends. You can check out the full set of rules and prize structure here.

Much of the strategy of this contest comes down to which two teams you decide not to include in your lineup (I refer to this as a full fade), and which two teams you decide to use at Kicker and Defense (I sometimes refer to this as a soft fade). Additionally, the contest creates the potential for duplicate entries and massive chalk plays. So ownership projections play a huge role.

Below, I’ll be running through each team in order of their odds to make (not win) the Super Bowl. Because the Super Bowl is worth double points, it’s absolutely critical to have two high-scoring players alive for the final game.

These odds are based on the current NFL Futures, FiveThirtyEight’s QB Adjusted ELO Ratings, and Football Outsider’s DVOA Playoff Odds

Baltimore Ravens

  • Vegas Odds
    • 58%
  • FiveThirtyEight Odds
    • 66%
  • DVOA Odds
    • 64%

Chalk: Lamar Jackson

Last year FFPC Challenge owners had a similar decision to make at QB with Patrick Mahomes. Mahomes averaged 30.1 FFPC points in 2018, just a hair below Jackson’s 30.5 this season. But over two thirds of the field ended up fading Mahomes at QB, including the winning entry. Mahomes still had a healthy 32.6% ownership, but Drew Brees and Andrew Luck also came in above 15%, and Travis Kelce was actually the most popular play on the Chiefs at 43%.

However, despite the similarity in scoring between Jackson and Mahomes, I expect owners to play QB differently this year for the following three reasons:

  1. Jackson’s rushing ability makes him harder to access through his pass catching weapons.
  2. This is a deeper TE field than last season, creating a weak incentive to pivot to Mark Andrews.
  3. Mark Ingram‘s calf injury makes him a risky pivot.

Therefore, I expect Jackson to set a QB ownership record this season with over 50% of the field rostering him in the contest.

Pivot: Mark Andrews

Despite being a Lamar Jackson pass catcher, an Andrews pivot still provides some leverage through the 1.5 PPR bonus for TEs. Andrews has also shown a strong ceiling this season with four 26-plus point outings and another five games above 15 points. He also provides leverage on George Kittle and Kelce, both of whom I expect to be very popular. With projected ownership of under 20%, Andrews the safest way to fade Lamar.

Galaxy Brain: Justin Tucker

If you’re betting against Lamar Jackson, you’re betting against the Ravens. Tucker allows you to bet on an early Ravens exit, while still banking points from the best kicker in the game.

Bonus Galaxy Brain: Mark Ingram

Given Ingram’s uncertain health, there’s a good chance he comes in at under 10% ownership. Ingram has gone over 20 points in five games this season. If he doesn’t intrigue you at under 10%, then you simply don’t have a big ol’ galaxy brain.

This has potential to backfire. If owners ignore his strained calf and roster Ingram above 20%, I think he’ll end up being one of the worst plays in the contest.

San Francisco 49ers

  • Vegas Odds
    • 56%
  • FiveThirtyEight Odds
    • 41%
  • DVOA Odds
    • 39%

Chalk: George Kittle

Kittle is the no-brainer TE play this year, as both an elite TE option, and the highest-scoring skill player on his team. While Kittle was slightly outscored by Kelce in points per game, he was also outscored by the same margin by his own QB: 19.1 to 18.9.

In other words, you can access the 49ers scoring just as reliably through Kittle as you can through his QB — at a position that can otherwise be a headache to fill. This will make Kittle very popular, with ownership likely to be in the 50-55% range.

Pivot: Raheem Mostert

The case for Mostert:

  1. Has at least one TD in each of his last five games
  2. Has at least a 70% chance of playing two home games,
  3. Has the second-best odds of any RB to play in the Super Bowl (where those TDs are worth 12 points).
  4. Should come in below 20% ownership

The case against Mostert:

  1. Has one game above 20 touches all season.
  2. Hasn’t topped 15 touches in any of his last four games.
  3. Hasn’t seen more than 4 targets all season.
  4. Hasn’t seen more than 2 targets since Week 12.
  5. Requires you to fade the top TE for optimal scoring builds.

Galaxy Brain: Deebo Samuel

Since week 10, Samuel has averaged 16.1 points and is coming off back-to-back games with a rushing TD. With ownership likely around 5%, Samuel provides a similar ceiling to Kittle and will be far less popular.

Kansas City Chiefs

  • Vegas Odds
    • 33%
  • FiveThirtyEight Odds
    • 25%
  • DVOA Odds
    • 35%

Chalk: Travis Kelce

When first looking at the field this year, I assumed that Kelce’s ownership would be held down by the Kittle chalk. But I’m coming around to the idea that many owners will simply play them both.

Kelce had three 23-plus point outings in his last four games, and outscored Tyreek Hill by over three points per game this season. He also provides owners with the ability to fade the chalkier Kittle.

Hill will be chalky as well, with ownership around 30%. But I ultimately expect owners to choose Kelce as the higher powered FLEX option, putting his ownership around 36%.

Pivot: Patrick Mahomes

Mahomes’s ownership will come in somewhere between 10-20% (I currently have him at 14%), which makes him an extremely interesting pivot off of Jackson. He also provides leverage on Kelce and Hill, since Mahomes ceiling games will likely involve Sammy Watkins, Mecole Hardman and/or Demarcus Robinson, who will all be virtually un-owned.

The problem with Mahomes is that Kelce and Hill owners will likely make out just fine in the large majority of Mahomes’ positive outcomes. If Mahomes doesn’t seperate from his chalky weapons, owners with him at QB could be behind the 8-ball.

Galaxy Brain: Damien Williams

Williams is coming off of a two-TD game and a season high seven targets in Week 17. He’ll likely come in below 15% ownership and provides leverage on the Kelce/Hill crowd, which should make up roughly two-thirds of the field.

New Orleans Saints

  • Vegas Odds
    • 27%
  • FiveThirtyEight Odds
    • 24%
  • DVOA Odds
    • 28%

Chalk: Michael Thomas

This is one of the most uncertain parts of the contest for me. Where will owners land in the decision between Thomas and Alvin Kamara?

In a vacuum, I think owners will lean toward Thomas. He had the stronger season as 2019’s WR1 and will project to outscore Kamara.

However, this is a fairly weak RB field. The other stud RBs either have low odds of a Super Bowl appearance (Derrick Henry and Dalvin Cook), or also require that you fade their stud WR teamate (Aaron Jones).

Ultimately I expect Thomas to be the more popular of the two, but Kamara RB upside in a weak RB field should keep Thomas’ ownership below 50%.

Pivot: Drew Brees

Brees is averaging over 31 points in his last four games and is the only QB playing in the Wild Card round with strong odds of making the Super Bowl. This means that owners who roster Brees have the upside of an additional QB game on the Jackson owners. This extra game upside arguably makes him a sharper pivot on Jackson than Mahomes.

However, Brees suffers from the same problem as Mahomes: he can be accessed through his chalky weapons. That said, only three of Brees’ last 15 TDs have gone to Thomas, so he does offer scoring upside that even Thomas can’t match.

Galaxy Brain: Jared Cook

Cook has five TDs in his last four games and three over his last two. While he lacks the reception upside of the elite TEs in the field, he provides maximum leverage. His ownership should come in between 1-2%.

Green Bay Packers

  • Vegas Odds
    • 20%
  • FiveThirtyEight Odds
    • 24%
  • DVOA Odds
    • 17%

Chalk: Aaron Jones

Because of the weakness at RB in this year’s contest, I expect Jones to ultimately be extremely highly owned. In fact, he’s currently my bet to be the highest-owned player in the field.

Last year owners had a similar dynamic with two choices: Ezekiel Elliott vs. Amari Cooper and Kamara vs.Thomas.

The results weren’t close. 77% of the field was on Elliott and 54% were on Kamara.

I’m betting that most owners will want at least one stud RB with good odds of making the Super Bowl. And I’m betting that most owners will prefer to roster Michael Thomas over Davante Adams. As a result, I expect Jones come come at around 70% ownership.

Pivot: Davante Adams

I currently have Adams projected for just 17% ownership. If this strikes you as absurdly low, keep in mind that Amari Cooper was owned by just 6% of the field last year. (Thomas was owned by 29% last year).

Admittedly, Adams’ ownership could come in quite a bit higher. If owners jam in early exit candidates Derrick Henry and Dalvin Cook, or show less affinity for RBs than in years past, then Adams could come in between 25-30% with Jones in the high 50s.

Regardless, Adams should be the lower owned of the two by a decent to large margin, while offering similar projected output.

Galaxy Brain: Aaron Rodgers

Because Rodgers’ weapons outside of Jones and Adams are so weak, he’s a risky and unexciting way to play the QB position. However, since everyone will think that, doesn’t that make him a contrarian and sharp way to play the QB position? Almost definitely not.

But Rodgers has gone over 30 points in four games this season and is a good bet to be 5% owned or lower.

New England Patriots

  • Vegas Odds
    • 11%
  • FiveThirtyEight Odds
    • 5%
  • DVOA Odds
    • 4%

Chalk: NE Defense

Despite being 5.5 point favorites at home this weekend, I don’t expect owners to be excited about rostering Patriots. As a result, I think their defense will come in as the highest owned player (with Julian Edelman a close 2nd).

The selection of NE Defense is essentially a soft fade of the Patriots in Round 1, and so we’ll probably see a fair amount of entries that pair NE Defense and Derrick Henry.

We should also see 10-15% of the field fading the Patriots outright, and another 10% or more on Nick Folk.

Pivot: Julian Edelman

If the Patriots make any kind of playoff run, it’s hard to imagine how Edelman isn’t a big part of that success. Edelman struggled mightily with injuries to close out the season which lowers both our expectations for him in the playoffs and projected ownership. But he’s the most straightforward way to benefit from the Patriots exceeding expectations.

If the reports on Edelman’s health are increasingly optimistic then he’ll likely turn into the chalk. But I still don’t see him getting over 30%, and in any event will be lower owned than the combined full fade and soft fades of NE.

Galaxy Brain: N’Keal Harry

Harry has one game above 10 points this season is averaging just 8.1 points over his last three. However, coming off a career high in targets (seven) and with Edelman still nursing various injuries, Harry doubles as both a classic bet on his RotoViz prospect profile and a true galaxy brain play at sub 5% ownership.

Philadelphia Eagles

  • Vegas Odds
    • 3%
  • FiveThirtyEight Odds
    • 6%
  • DVOA Odds
    • 5%

Chalk: Full Fade

Of all the Wild Card round underdogs, the Eagles have the best chance of advancing to Round 2. But despite that, I expect them to the second most popular fade in the contest. Additionally, I expect that Jake Elliott will be the most popular play at Kicker in the contest. Between those two plays, I project that nearly two-thirds of the field will be rooting for an early Eagles exit in round 1.

Pivot: Dallas Goedert

I expect the field to be so heavily tilted against the Eagles not because they think they’re such a bad bet to advance, but because they lack exciting fantasy options compared to the other underdogs. This would likely be a different story if Miles Sanders was healthy, but as is, Dallas Goedert is the only player who can be counted on in an Eagles playoff run. I currently have him projected for 19% ownership.

With back-to-back games of 10-plus targets, and with Zach Ertz not yet cleared for contact, Goedert is a good way to bet on the Eagles advancing past round 1. He also provides leverage on the chalkier TE plays.

Galaxy Brain: Miles Sanders

Sanders has seen 5-plus targets in each of his last six games and has gone over 21 points in three of those outings. If he is healthy, he could be a contest winning play at 10-15% ownership. We probably won’t know for sure what we have in Sanders until we see him play, so he’s extremely risky.

Seattle Seahawks

  • Vegas Odds
    • 5%
  • FiveThirtyEight Odds
    • 2%
  • DVOA Odds
    • 6%

Chalk: Full Fade

I expect owners to handle the Seahawks similarly to the Eagles. The full fade should be the most popular option, followed by their Kicker. Just over half the field should be on one of these two options.

Pivot: Tyler Lockett

Lockett has struggled with inconsistency to close out the season but he remains the top pass-catching option in Seattle, and is a solid option for those betting on the Seahawks to advance.

I expect him to just barely finish as the highest owned Seattle skill player with between 15-20% ownership.

Galaxy Brain: D.K. Metcalf

Metcalf will be slightly lower than Lockett in traditional rankings and projections heading into the Sunday, but our GLSP app thinks he’s the better bet this week. The app slightly prefers him in it’s average PPR projection, and also gives him double the the likelihood of breaking 25 PPR points (8% chance to a 4% chance).

Though I expect it to be very close, Metcalf will also probably be lower owned than Lockett. So he provides an opportunity for a larger ceiling at lower ownership.

Minnesota Vikings

  • Vegas Odds
    • 3%
  • FiveThirtyEight Odds
    • 4%
  • DVOA Odds
    • 5%

Chalk: Full Fade

As a TD-plus road underdog, the Vikings should be the most popular fade in the contest.

Pivot: Dalvin Cook

Dalvin Cook should be a popular pick, but ultimately the likelihood of a Round 1 exit should keep his ownership below 50%. (I currently have him at 41%).

That said, unless all four home teams advance in the Divisional Round, less than eight teams will play multiple games. In other words: as long as Cook has a ceiling game in the Wild Card round, teams that roster him can likely survive a Vikings loss.

Galaxy Brain: Dan Bailey

Bailey’s ownership will likely land between 5-10%. But if this game ends up being a high scoring Saints win, then Bailey provides some access to the Minnesota side without burning a skill position roster spot.

Tennessee Titans

  • Vegas Odds
    • 3%
  • FiveThirtyEight Odds
    • 1%
  • DVOA Odds
    • 4%

Chalk: Derrick Henry

The case for Henry is pretty similar to Cook. Except that it should be a lot easier for owners to talk themselves into a Titans win than a Vikings win. Henry is also coming off a monster Week 17, and looks extremely likely to the the focal point of the Titans attack. As a result I expect Henry to come in well above 50% ownership. I currently have him at 63%.

Pivot: Full Fade

Given that they’re nearly a TD road underdog, the Titans should be a fairly popular fade. I currently project 25% of the field to choose this option.

However, the Titans Defense and Kicker will not be popular options, likely combining for less than 5% ownership. So all told, something like 70% of the field looks poised to roster a Titans skill player. This seems extraordinarily high given that the current Vegas money line only gives the Titans a 33% chance of playing more than one game.

Galaxy Brain: A.J. Brown

Brown has been an absolute stud down the stretch, and will likely be less than 10% owned. However even in a 2-game run, he faces the Patriots and then Ravens secondaries, so he’s not a great bet for ceiling games. Moreover, selecting Brown puts you in the chalky “Titans advance” camp, which runs counter to the Round 1 probabilities.

Buffalo Bills

  • Vegas Odds
    • 3%
  • FiveThirtyEight Odds
    • <1%
  • DVOA Odds
    • 3%

Chalk: Bills Fade

The Bills will be popular as a full fade and as a soft fade through the selection of their Kicker and Defense. I expect two-thirds of the field to be on one of these options, with the full fade being the most popular of the three.

Pivot: Devin Singletary

The current moneyline puts the Bills’ chances of losing at more like 56% than 66%, so the field will likely be underweight on Bills skill player options. Devin Singletary is my favorite of these options from a roster construction standpoint. He allows you to fade the Bills fade while also keeping you off the major chalk at RB.

My main concern with Singletary is that if too many owners follow this thought process, he’ll end up closer to 30% than the 19% I currently have him projected for.

Galaxy Brain: John Brown

Brown is another strong way to play the Bills. In fact, in a vacuum he looks like the optimal play over Singletary. Our GLSP App gives Brown a 32% chance of topping 15 points, and Singletary just a 14% chance to do so. But, Singletary opens up quite a bit of roster construction flexibility that Brown does not.

This flexibility should drive ownership as well, giving Brown a real chance to finish below 10%. In that event he’ll be one of the sharpest plays on the board.

Houston Texans

  • Vegas Odds
    • 3%
  • FiveThirtyEight Odds
    • 2%
  • DVOA Odds
    • <1%

Chalk: DeAndre Hopkins

With Will Fuller not full healthy, Hopkins is likely to see big time ownership. I have him at 58% currently.

This is well below his 2018 ownership of 76%, but Hopkins is coming off a weaker season than a year ago and faces a tougher matchup. Hopkins is particularly interesting in Derrick Henry builds, as this would have the Texans in a potential shootout with the Chiefs in Round 2.

Pivot: Ka’imi Fairbairn

Fairbairn is likely to come in between 5-10% owned, but is a sharp way to fade the team with the lowest chances of advancing to the Super Bowl according to the combined odds above.

Galaxy Brain: Will Fuller

Will Fuller is expected to “be available” on Saturday and has access to a ceiling that few WRs can match. He’ll be less than 5% owned unless a hugely positive report comes out in the next 48 hours. He also has the potential to completely sink your $200 entry.

Image Credit: Robin Alam/Icon Sportswire. Pictured: Lamar Jackson.

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