Daily Fantasy NFL Playoffs: Conference Championship Round on FanDuel and DraftKings 1/22/18
So, there are only two games this weekend, making it the shortest slate possible in the NFL. Does that mean we'll not play it? Get a new hobby? Get back to reading? Go to the gym?
You haven't been here long. If there's a weekend of DFS football, we be there with effing bells on. 3 borderline NFL QBs and Tom Brady? Don't mind if I do! Let's go.
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The Jacksonville Jaguars at the New England Patriots
Vegas Total: 46.5 New England favored (-9.5)
It's a fat spread and not a particularly high total, but guess what? The Pats STILL have the highest total of the weekend. After sending the "happy to be here" Titans home with the moral victory of playing in the 2nd round of the playoffs, the Pats appear to be firing on all cylinders coming into the conference championship. So is there nothing new to see here? Not exactly.
The Pats actually went back to some old school Patriots step-on-the-neck tricks, going away from a running game that they'd be turning to to close out games recently and reverting back to a short-pass-is-the-new run strategy. This meant Dion Lewis' carries went down to just 16, but his targets went up to a staggering 10. We saw Danny Amendola's targets jump to 13 as he did his best Wes Welker impersonation. Gronk, as always, was terrific.
But what can we make of this going into the Conference Championship? I'm not exactly sure. You see, we knew Tennessee was dynamite against the run, and said as much in last week's preview article. The Pats keyed in on this and stretched their front 7 out to devastating effect. The Jags? They're basically Tennessee's opposite. They're the best team by a mile against the pass (at least during the regular season - more on last week's game in a second), but ranked in the bottom third of the league at defending the run. Could we see a return to Dion Lewis' ground prowess here? It almost doesn't matter. I think Lewis is a play regardless after showing that he'll be involved in either a short passing attack or a running game.
And what of the Pats' other pieces? I mean, the Jags DID just allow nearly 500 yards and 5 touchdowns to Ben Roethlisberger, so perhaps there's some chance they were a regular season paper tiger? I think we can safely grab Rob Gronkowski, whose role seems assured regardless of how the Pats might adjust their plans. I understand the allure of Danny Amendola's performance last week and believe he's completely playable in cash, but I also think it's perfectly reasonable to fade him in big tournaments if you think the Pats will turn back to the run a bit. As for Brady, he's clearly in contention if you can afford to pay up for him.
And how about those Jags?
This one is a little bit trickier. They managed to drop 45 points on a good Steelers defense last week with Blake Bortles going 14 of 26 for 214 yards. This coming off of a 12 of 23 for 87 yards in another win(?!) against Buffalo in the prior week. So they've won two games with this "recipe," but how will it translate against the Pats?
I actually think Bortles and guys like Marqise Lee or Dede Westbrook make for interesting tournament options. The fact is that there just aren't many ways you can go in big tourneys, and if you're telling me there's a scenario where the Jags are too far behind to credibly keep running the ball, I'm listening. It just seems AWFULLY speculative to rely upon any of these guys in 50/50s or double-ups.
Then there's Leonard Fournette. The Jags' workhorse rookie touched the ball 28 times last week after touching the ball 26 times against Buffalo, and seems to be a part of the plan on every down. He's the best running back left in the playoffs by a wide margin, and the Pats have been less than spectacular on a per touch basis against the run this season.
But will the Jags even have time to run the ball? That's the ultimate question facing daily fantasy football players this week. If you believe that the Jags will try and slow the game down early and that they CAN stop the Pats' high flying pass attack a couple times, then Fournette could be in for 30+ touches and play of the week status. If you think the Jags could panic and move away from him after falling down 14 in the first half, he's a complete stay away. It's hard to remember a guy who is such a huge part of his team's offense being so game script dependent this deep in the playoffs, but here we are.
The Minnesota Vikings at the Philadelphia Eagles
Vegas total: 38. Minnesota favored at (-3.5)
An extremely low total for a conference championship game, and one that's fuel as much by some lackluster offensive play as it is by good defensive play. Let's start with the Eagles, simply because there is less to say here.
Minnesota was the 2nd best team at defending the run AND defending the pass this season, and bring the full force of their defense to bear against Nick Foles, who has sort of redefined the term "game manager" in his 3 full starts this season. The Eagles looked terrified to allow him to take any chances at all last week, which for me immediately rules out playing downfield targets like Alshon Jeffery.
I do think there is a case to be made for playing Zach Ertz (if you don't want to pay up for Gronk), though. In the other two games where Foles took all the snaps he had 9 and 14 targets, and if Philly falls behind one assumes that Ertz will be prominently involved. The other guy I'm looking to on Philly is Nelson Agholor, who also saw pretty good usage in those games with 7 and 9 targets. I just worry Minnesota is going to kill this offense, though, whatever the spread says. I'll only be deploying offensive Eagles grudgingly for 50/50s, and only when their prices just fill out good plays at other positions.
As for the Vikings, I'm not sure it gets especially sunny there either. This game has a low total not just because of the Eagles' offensive question marks and the Vikings' great defense. The Eagles themselves were a nightmare for opposing running games this season, allowing just 3.8 yards per carry and the fewest rushing yards overall. This leaves me less than bullish on Minnesota's running game, even if the game script will likely favor it.
That leaves Minnesota's passing game. Keenum made his 3rd highest number of attempts on the season against New Orleans, going 25/40 for a respectable 318 yards, but is this really the plan when the game is going well? In their last 7 games of the season, Keenum topped 30 passing attempts just one time. If the Vikings see something they like, I could certainly see Diggs and Thielen (and to a lesser degree Rudolph) putting in some work here, but it just seems to me that the prices are slightly too high for the relative opportunity.
Still, if Philly's running defense is as stifling as it has been all season, you could absolutely see the Vikes lean on Keenum once again. Still feels like a big tournament play to me, though.
So... that's it? A 2 game slate, and the last one of the NFL season! If you've got the blues about DFS NFL saying adios for 8 months, do be sure to check out our lineup optimizer for the NBA, which will give you all the good lineup lovin' you need until baseball rolls around in the Spring and the promised land of the NFL returns to us in September. Until then, may the DFS Gods be with you.
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- Stefon Diggs: (AP Photo/Jeff Roberson,