WATCH: Levitan’s Leverage: How Case Keenum, Julio Jones stack up in divisional round
Fantasy football slates that include the Steelers at home are typically straightforward. We play the Killer Bs and figure out the rest after that. However, we can’t blindly do that this weekend because of a matchup against the dominant Jaguars defense. That leaves us without many “layup” plays on this four-game slate, which should flatly spread out ownership.
The point of this column is to use the news, snap counts, usage, matchups and trends to both be a little contrarian and avoid whiffs. Note that I am discussing the DraftKings main slate only, aka the four divisional-round playoff games.
MATCHUPS TO EXPLOIT
Julio Jones vs. the EaglesAntonio Brown has to deal with the NFL’s best pass defense, Michael Thomas will be shadowed by Xavier Rhodes, Brandin Cooks has seen fewer than eight targets in five of his last six games, and Stefon Diggs likely will see a lot of Marshon Lattimore. All of those wildly talented wideouts certainly can win their matchups, but the best on-paper spot belongs to Jones.
The Eagles have shown signs of being a funnel defense, dominating opposing run games to the tune of 3.75 yards per carry allowed and ranking third in rush defense DVOA. They also are strong against running backs in the passing game, giving up just 653 yards in that category (ninth-fewest). That means cornerbacks Ronald Darby and Jalen Mills will see a lot of volume, and they’ve struggled to handle it. Mills has surrendered nine touchdowns, easily most among corners in the NFL.
That leads us to Jones, whose usage has turned elite lately for the Falcons. Hes averaging 10.2 targets per game over the last five, ranked fourth in the entire league in targets inside the 10-yard line during the regular season and added an 8-yard TD in the wild-card round.
Nelson Agholor vs. the FalconsThe Eagles’ game plan to beat the Falcons on Saturday is simple: Run the football and make sure backup-turned-starting QB Nick Foles has decisive first reads. That puts Jay Ajayi in play as a sneaky GPP option and also places an emphasis on slot man Nelson Agholor.
Note that in Foles’ two games this season, Agholor caught 11 passes on 16 targets while Alshon Jeffery had just four on 12 targets. Agholor also has the best matchup in the Eagles’ pass-catching corps, as he draws slot corner Brian Poole, Pro Football Focus’ No. 85 corner among 120 qualifiers. At just $4,800, Agholor represents one of the few players under $5,000 with a plus role/matchup/skill set trio.
SITUATION TO CAPITALIZE ON
Chris Hogan returning to healthHogan has played just 55 snaps for the Patriots since Week 8 because of a shoulder injury. But he’s not on the injury report for Saturday’s game against the Titans, suggesting he’s finally back to 100 percent. That’s great news for a passing game that missed him dearly, particularly in the red zone. Hogan led Patriots wideouts and running backs with eight targets inside the 10-yard line this season despite playing just nine games.
When we last saw Hogan healthy, he cost $6,500 on DraftKings and now is down to $5,200, even though the matchup is very strong. The Titans were 24th in DVOA against the pass and seventh against the run, giving up a ton of underneath catches while doing everything they can to limit the big play. That sets up perfectly for Hogan, whose average depth of target was 13.6 yards this season. That’s far less than Cooks’ 15.9.
CONTRARIAN GPP STACK
Ben Roethlisberger, Antonio Brown and Marqise LeeFading the Steelers at home because of matchup concerns is a dangerous game — even when the matchup is truly horrific. Back in Week 15 of the 2015 season, the Steelers hosted one of the best pass defenses of our generation in the Broncos. When the dust settled, Ben Roethlisberger had 380 yards plus three TDs, and Antonio Brown posted a 16-189-2 line on 18 targets at 5.8 percent ownership.
Because of the matchup and Brown’s Week 15 calf injury (which now is behind him), this stack could be far less owned than it normally is. Remember that Brown iced Jalen Ramsey and the Jags in Week 5, going for 10-157-0 on 19 targets. Playing this stack also gives us leverage off Le’Veon Bell, whom I expect to be the highest-owned player on the slate.
If Roethlisberger and Brown truly will go off, then Jaguars QB Blake Bortles will have to play far better than he did last week. One way to do that is to feature Lee, his favorite target. Lee was limited by an ankle injury against the Bills, playing on just 59 percent of the snaps. In the first 14 weeks of the season, Lee played on 80 percent of the snaps and had five games with double-digit targets. Now that he’s off the injury report, we can expect the underrated Lee to resume his No. 1 wideout role.
CASH GAME CONSIDERATIONS(No particular order)
QB: Tom Brady, Case Keenum, Matt Ryan
RB: Le’Veon Bell, Derrick Henry, Dion Lewis, Devonta Freeman, Latavius Murray
WR: Antonio Brown, Julio Jones, Adam Thielen, Mohamed Sanu, Chris Hogan, Nelson Agholor, Corey Davis
TE: Rob Gronkowski, Zach Ertz, Delanie Walker, Kyle Rudolph
D/ST: Steelers, Falcons, Jaguars, Patriots, Vikings
I am a promoter at DraftKings and am also an avid fan and user (my username is adamlevitan) 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.