WATCH: Adam Levitan looks ahead to the NFL divisional playoff round
This is a weekly series where I break down my favorite DraftKings fantasy football tournament plays for the upcoming NFL week. This week, I’ll focus on high-upside plays and pairings that could pay off big for you in the divisional playoff round.
Case Keenum ($6,100) and Adam Thielen ($7,600)
The Vikings will face the Saints on Sunday as four-point home favorites with a 24.75 implied team total. While Keenum hasn’t thrown more than 30 times in his last four starts, that trend easily could change here, given that the Vikings will go up against a top-five offense in the Saints. Targeting Minnesota’s run game is fine, but knowing which back to target is problematic. The higher upside might lie in targeting Keenum and his top receiving target, Thielen.
With Thielen working out of the slot on many snaps, he’ll likely avoid Saints cornerback Marshon Lattimore for most of the game and see weaker coverage from P.J. Williams or Ken Crawley. Those are matchups that Thielen can exploit and has exploited, posting four games with 20 or more DKFP with Keenum as his QB during the regular season. Keenum also has flashed upside this season, posting four games with 22 or more DKFP through 14 starts. The Saints also have given up back to back 300-yard passing games, making this a good matchup and spot of which to take advantage.
Just Missed — Le’Veon Bell ($9,600) and Steelers D/ST ($3,800)
Marcus Mariota ($5,900)
It’s obviously foolish to believe that Mariota will be able to throw and catch a TD pass on the same play again this week, but his price still makes him an attractive target. The Titans are 13-point underdogs Saturday against the Patriots, and while you can expect a large dose of Derrick Henry, Tennessee will need production from Mariota (with his arm or legs) to keep this game close.
The Patriots’ defense has been much improved of late, but it should be noted that the unit has struggled at times with mobile QBs — allowing Cam Newton to beat them in Week 4 while running for 41 yards and one TD — and given up an average of 262 passing yards in their last four games. On a weekend filled with tough defensive matchups across the board, counting on Mariota to produce his second big game in a row here (at a reduced price) seems like a good strategy for tournaments.
Just Missed — Nick Foles ($5,200)
Le’Veon Bell ($9,600)
It might seem overly simplistic to target the top running back on the slate, but Bell has every chance to post a massive game Sunday for the Steelers. He has averaged 7.2 receptions over his last five starts and also run the ball much better of late, averaging 4.9 yards per carry in his last two starts. The Jaguars’ defense is great at shutting down the passing game but has been susceptible to versatile backs such as Bell, as it gave up 119 yards to LeSean McCoy last week and 117 yards to Derrick Henry the previous week.
Overall, seeing the Steelers use Bell in mismatches in the passing game — versus trying to exploit Jacksonville’s all-star cornerbacks — seems likely. With a heavy workload, Bell easily could post a fantasy game that would make him a near-must-own in any format.
Mark Ingram ($5,600)
The Vikings are a tough matchup for any offense, and while it’s important to temper expectations for Saints offensive players this week, it’s interesting to note that New Orleans still is slated to score right around 21 points in this game. While the Saints exploited the Panthers’ weak cornerbacks last week with their wide receivers, I expect New Orleans to funnel more of its passing game through the running backs this week.
Both Ingram and Alvin Kamara should see increased production after running into stacked boxes on every play last week, and of the two, I prefer Ingram, who’s $2,200 cheaper and caught five passes in Week 1 against Minnesota. New Orleans will score some points in this matchup, and given that its two starting running backs scored 26 TDs combined during the regular season, taking advantage of the huge dip in price on Ingram this week makes a lot of sense.
Just Missed — Dion Lewis ($6,600)
Brandin Cooks ($7,000)
Tyreek Hill posted seven receptions for 87 yards against the Titans last week (and just missed breaking a few plays for much longer), while his counterpart, Demarcus Robinson, had 54 yards and one TD. It’s just the latest example of the Titans being bad at covering wide receivers, and they’re especially susceptible to quick underneath routes that Cooks has made a habit of breaking for long plays over his career.
Despite Cooks coming in on a bit of a downtrend, I expect the Patriots to make full use of him in this matchup and to also not play too conservative late in the game, as the Chiefs did last week against the Titans. This is a big spot for Cooks, who also will be in his first playoff game at Foxboro and should be amped to make it a good one.
Dede Westbrook ($4,400)
Westbrook was the lone bright spot in the Jaguars’ passing game last weekend, as he ended the game with five receptions and 48 yards, both team highs. The Steelers will have Joe Haden back from injury, but he has struggled mightily at defending wide receivers of late, allowing 12 TDs to the position over the last eight games.
The Jags are big road underdogs in this game and likely will have to throw the ball far more than 23 times this week (perhaps double that amount) to keep up with the Steelers. Westbrook is affordable and a good way to get a piece of an offense that has produced big games from the wide receiver position when the circumstances are right.
Just Missed — Corey Davis ($3,400)
Zach Ertz ($5,800)
It’s very slim pickings in terms of solid tight end value plays, and paying up for one of the top two or three options looks hard to avoid. While Rob Gronkowski should bounce back from the goose egg he posted in Week 17, I still prefer Ertz, who comes in $1,300 cheaper this week.
While there might be concerns about the Eagles’ QB play, it should be noted that Ertz has seen 23 targets in the two full games these two played together and also saw his connection/completion rate stay essentially the same as it was when Carson Wentz was under center. I expect the Eagles to have more opportunities this week than the Rams had against the Falcons last week because of their run defense, and that should help Ertz’s production as well.
Just Missed — Delanie Walker ($5,000)
Given that we have some solid defenses on the slate this week, it might seem foolish to pay up for the most expensive team, but the upside with Pittsburgh (and possible depressed ownership because of price) makes it a worthy tournament target. The Steelers D/ST comes in with a ton of momentum, posting 13 sacks in its last two games, and while Jacksonville beat Pittsburgh (badly) earlier in the season, that was mainly because the Steelers’ offense imploded. The Jaguars also will be on the road, where QB Blake Bortles threw for just six TDs against eight INTs this season and posted a 69.4 passer rating.
While there’s value to be had in teams like the Eagles or Patriots this week, I believe the most upside lies with the Steelers, who not only have a boost personnel-wise but has a matchup with a QB who hasn’t performed well on the road at all this season.
Just Missed — Patriots ($3,200)
I am a promoter at DraftKings and am also an avid fan and user (my username is wavegoodbye) and may sometimes play on my personal account in the games that I offer advice on. Although I have expressed my personal view on the games and strategies above, they do not necessarily reflect the view(s) of DraftKings and I may also deploy different players and strategies than what I recommend above. I am not an employee of DraftKings and do not have access to any non-public information.