It’s really hard to fathom how often the Patriots have been playing in the AFC Championship Game. I mean, eight straight of anything seems like a little much. Daniel Radcliffe filmed eight straight Harry Potter movies and now I’m pretty sure he willingly avoids wearing glasses in public. There was literally a show in the late 1970s called: Eight is Enough. So, I think we can all agree, we’ve reached a point of diminishing returns here. However, despite that immense pedigree, New England isn’t favored this Sunday in its matchup in Kansas City. In fact, it’ll be the first time the Patriots are underdogs in a football game since 2015. How will that turning of the tables impact your Showdown lineup construction? Let’s get into it.
In this article, I will outline the potential game script for the two possible outcomes of this matchup (we’re like Donovan McNabb here — we don’t believe in ties). Based on these narratives, I’ll highlight the players who would stand to benefit from the events of the night going down in such a manner. After the hypothetical exercise, I’ll crown a winner, name a Captain’s Pick, and give some locks for the slate.
Note: All salaries will be Flex prices unless noted as Captain’s Pick prices.
ADAM LEVITAN’S TARGET PROJECTION
Sammy Watkins, $8,100 Captain’s Pick, $5,400 Flex — Expect the Patriots to focus on Tyreek Hill and Travis Kelce, thus daring Damien Williams and Watkins to beat them. Watkins’ foot looked healthy against the Colts last week as he played on 76-of-82 snaps and saw 19.5 percent of Patrick Mahomes’ targets.
Projection: 7 targets
FIVE BETTING TRENDS
— The Patriots have won seven of their last eight games as underdogs.
— The Chiefs have won each of their last three night games.
— The road team has covered the spread in six of the last seven Sunday night games between AFC teams.
— The Chiefs have lost six of their last seven postseason games at Arrowhead Stadium.
— James White has scored a touchdown in each of the last four road night games for the Patriots.
Stats provided by DraftKings Sportsbook
If the Chiefs Win…If you had been hoping to get some sort of playoff discount with Patrick Mahomes ($11,400) this weekend, think again. The pivot is a full $1K more expensive than every other player on this slate, understandable considering his regular season numbers. Mahomes led the NFL in 300-yard passing games (10), passing touchdowns (50) and fantasy points per drop back among quarterbacks with at least 200 attempted throws (0.67). He was other-worldly from a DFS perspective for the first three months of the year, right up until mid-December, where he’s still been great, but has certainly taken a step down in raw output. Mahomes had never been held below 20.0 DKFP before the Chiefs’ Week 15 meeting with the Chargers and, since then, he’s been held below the mark in three of the team’s past four games — including last Sunday’s win over the Colts. Still, you can probably chalk most of the dip in production to variance.
Mahomes, who attempted 105 red-zone passes throughout the regular season, averaged 6.8 throws per game inside the 20-yard line from Week 1 to Week 14. That figure fell to 5.7 across Kansas City’s final three contests, yet, that ratio would remain a top-10 mark in football. There’s also the fact that Mahomes led the league in touchdown passes of over 40 yards (7). With the Patriots likely to keep the Chiefs’ offense more engaged than Indianapolis, the QB is, as always, quite viable.
I’m not exactly terrified of New England’s improved passing defense, either. Though the unit did conclude 2018 in the top half of the NFL by DVOA, the final stretch of the Patriots’ schedule wasn’t exactly daunting. From Week 8 on, New England squared off with the Bills twice (dead-last in AFC passing DVOA); the Jets twice (second-worst in AFC passing DVOA), the Dolphins (third-worst in AFC passing DVOA), and the Titans (fourth-worst in AFC passing DVOA). However, when faced with the task of defending an above-average passing attack, like, well, Kansas City; the Patriots were torched for 352 yards and four touchdowns.
Tyreek Hill ($10,400) accounting for 142 of those yards and three of those trips into the end zone. Now, New England does have a variety of talented corners to throw at the explosive Hill. Stephon Gilmore is Pro Football Focus’ top-graded CB of 2018, while both J.C. Jackson and Jason McCourty also finished the season inside PFF’s top-15 corners by their coverage metrics. Yet, on the other side of that coin, Pro Football Focus had Hill ranked as their fifth-best wideout of the year; along with the 24-year-old ranking first in deep receiving yards (754) and second in yards gained per route run out of the slot (3.28). Its the AFC Championship Game. Everyone’s good.
I don’t worry about the Bill Belichick narrative of him taking away want an offense wants to do most. I mean, even New England’s ability to suppress the tight end position comes with the asterisk of opponent will. Yes, only 13 percent of the opposition’s targets were directed at the position across the final five weeks of the season – and New England only surrendered 5.9 yards per passing attempt on those chances – however, the caliber of TEs was definitely lacking in those contests. Compare that to Travis Kelce ($10,000) or Eric Ebron, who combined for 24 targets in their opportunities against this incarnation of the Patriots; and I’m left believing that talent, above all, dictates success. Don’t get me wrong, though. Kelce and Hill will rightfully see their share of attention, which should open things up for Sammy Watkins ($5,400) to get in on the act.
While Watkins continued injury issues limited his role in 2018, when actually healthy, the former Bills’ draft pick was pretty consistent. In the eight games Watkins played in excess of 80 percent of the Chiefs’ offensive snaps, he averaged 7.0 targets. That’s a lot of volume at a considerable value, at least when directly comparing his salary to that of his Pro Bowl teammates. Watkins’ health also all but eliminates Chris Conley ($2,000) and Demarcus Robinson ($1,800) from consideration; though it is curious to see Conley priced so similarly to Robinson with the Georgia product out-snapping him 56-to-4 last Sunday. I wouldn’t bet on Conley doing much, yet that still seems like a market inefficiency.
Finally, we get to running back. Though it does appear that Spencer Ware ($3,800) will be active after practicing in full on Thursday, I can’t see him cutting too significantly into Damien Williams’ ($8,400) workload. It’s one thing to play well and be praised while filling in for a starting player, it’s a whole other to be handed an $8-million contract extension. New England allowed 4.67 adjusted line yards per carry during the regular season – the seventh-highest mark in football. This defensive unit can be run on. With Williams still sure to see roughly 70 percent of the snaps, I’m content with his price on this slate.
If the Patriots Win…To be frank, the Patriots were not good on the road this year. The team that averaged a robust 33.8 points per game in New England was held to a far more underwhelming 21.6 points per contest away from home in 2018 — a big reason for their 3-5 record within the circumstance. Still, it’s not like Tom Brady ($9,600) was awful in those eight games. He posted a touchdown-to-interception ratio of 12-to-3, he completed 63.1 percent of his passes, he had a quarterback rating of 94.5. For all intents and purposes, he was fine. It was also a matter of scheduling, with the Patriots drawing the Steelers, the Bears, the Bills and the Jaguars away from Gillette Field this season. So, no, I’m not worried about Brady because I suddenly think he’s broken when having to leave the state of Massachusetts; I’m hesitant to trust Brady because we already have a blueprint for how New England can beat Kansas City and he’s not it.
It’s obviously easy enough to pass on the Chiefs with success, as they’ve surrendered the second-most DKFP to the QB position to this point in the year. However, if the Patriots decide to mirror their game plan from a 43-40 victory in Week 6 – and you truly believe that they’ll win this matchup – it’ll be on the back of Sony Michel ($7,400). New England ran the ball 38 times that Sunday night, gaining a massive 173 yards on the ground and possessing the ball a full 12 minutes more than their opposition. This wasn’t an aberration, either. Kansas City was one of only two defenses this season to allow more than five adjusted line yards per carry, finishing the year with an NFL-high mark of 5.28 – actually the worst figure we’ve seen so far in this millennium.
However, as we know with the Patriots, script dictates much more than philosophy with the squad. It also decides personnel. Michel’s ceiling is capped if New England is forced to play from behind in this game, with James White ($7,200) stepping into the fold in such a scenario. White has seemingly been Brady’s No. 1 target in big spots in recent years, a thought process more than apparent last weekend when the Wisconsin product tied Darren Sproles’ NFL playoff record for receptions by a running back (15). Yet, while the Chiefs were very susceptible to opposing backfields in the passing game early this year, they’ve shored up that area of their defense going back to Week 12. In that span, teams playing Kansas City have targeted their RBs on a league-low 13 percent of attempted passes; a trend validated again by Andrew Luck and the Colts in the Divisional Round. That statistic alone would not be enough for me to fade White, but pair that with a positive New England script and things get a little dicey.
Aside from White, the Patriots’ receiving options stack up as such: there’s Julian Edelman ($9,000) and then there’s everyone else. Edelman’s been targeted on 24 percent of the routes he’s run so far this season – trailing only Michael Thomas for utilization among WRs on the NFL’s four remaining teams. This shouldn’t really come as a shock, with Edelman having seen double-digit targets in four of New England’s past five games. The veteran was also one of just eight wideouts with over 20 red-zone opportunities to his name in the regular season, a feat made even more impressive with Edelman missing the first four contests of the year due to suspension.
So, if Edelman’s the clear floor play, Chris Hogan ($4,200) is the wild card. While the Patriots have an assortment of role players who could fall backwards into a huge play – see Rex Burkhead ($3,000) or Cordarrelle Patterson ($2,200) – it’s Hogan who’s entered a high-volume snap situation since Josh Gordon left the team. Hogan played 92 percent of the team’s offensive plays against the Chargers and has the highest remaining aDOT on the roster (13.1 yards). He’s totally boom-or-bust, but with Kansas City having surrendered a league-high 65 passing plays of over 20 yards, boom is very much on the table.
You’ll notice I didn’t mention Rob Gronkowski ($5,600) as a candidate to make a big splash this Sunday, even knowing the Chiefs have allowed the most DKFP to tight ends so far this season. I’m simply torn on the matter. Part of me thinks Gronk is washed, yet another really does believe they’ve been saving him for a spot like this all season long. For example, let’s again look back to these two teams meeting on Oct. 14. With four minutes left in that contest, Gronkowski had a single catch on only two targets. Then, with the Patriots needing to score on two consecutive drives, the hulking TE broke off gains of 39 and 42 yards. It’s still in there. I won’t go so far as to recommend full exposure to the sporadic, aging All-Pro; but at such a reduced price, you need at least a piece.
THE OUTCOMEThe key here, as it so often is with Showdown, is to narrow the specific narratives you like to one or two options. If you think the Chiefs roll in this game, using your Captain’s Pick on Hill ($15,600 CP) or Williams ($12,600 CP) then bringing it back with Brady, White, and Gronkowski is a really sound way to go. If you believe history wins out and the Patriots come out on top, I’d suggest taking a serious look at Sony Michel ($11,000 CP) at 1.5x value. There’s more than enough viable salaries at the mid-tier level to make almost any combination of players work this Sunday.
Final Score: Kansas City 31, New England 24
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