Short slates present us with a different set of rules. We have to throw out concerns over negative correlation, meaning we should be far more willing to play a running back and wide receiver from the same team. We also can’t be as price sensitive, as the guys we like are the guys we like — there aren’t enough of them to be picky. And finally, we have to be on top of our late-swap game as the roster overlap with our opponents will be significant.
The point of this column is to use the news, snap count, usage and trends to both be a little contrarian and avoid whiffs.
MATCHUPS TO EXPLOIT
1. Tyler Eifert against a funneling Steelers defense
Eifert sustained a concussion in Week 14 and missed two weeks. He returned in Week 17, but only played on 58.5 percent of the snaps. So Eifert is getting lost in the shuffle this weekend, especially with the entire world (rightfully) on Jordan Reed and most people lacking confidence in A.J. McCarron. It’s a mistake to forget about a guy who converted 12-of-16 red-zone targets this year.
This week, I expect Eifert back in his usual 90-100 snap percentage role. He’s also facing a Steelers team that forces opponents to take to their air. They have the league’s No. 5 run defense DVOA and an offense that will put points on the board. This Steelers defense gives up a hefty 3.9 more DraftKings points than salary-based expectation to wide receivers and 2.4 more to tight ends. I’m not afraid to use Eifert in my flex with Reed.
2. DeSean Jackson against the Packers without Sam Shields
Shields, the Packers’ top outside corner, has been sidelined by a concussion for three weeks and remains in the protocol as of Friday. During that time, the normally solid Green Bay pass defense has been hit for 6-120-2 by a previously dormant Amari Cooper and 6-111-0 by Michael Floyd. Shields absence means DeSean Jackson will likely be matched up with first-round rookie Damarious Randall. Note that Jackson should be 100 percent as he sat out Week 17 while Randall was a Thursday addition to the injury report with a groin issue.
SITUATIONS TO CAPITALIZE ON
1. James Jones emerging as Aaron Rodgers favorite target
Since Mike McCarthy took back playcalling duties four games ago, James Jones leads the team in targets with 40. His count has gone 7, 9, 11, 13. During that stretch Randall Cobb has seen 30 targets, Davante Adams 23 and Richard Rodgers 17. Although Jones can’t separate at all (perhaps due to the aerodynamic limitations of his hoodie), Aaron Rodgers trusts him to win jump ball situations. This week presents a plus matchup as Jones projects to run a lot of routes at nickel corner Quinton Dunbar because the Packers go three-WR a league-high 95 percent of the time (as described by Mike Clay here). Dunbar is a rookie UDFA out of Florida.
2. Markus Wheaton moving up the trust-meter
Martavis Bryant is a really gifted receiver that I’ve used a ton this year with very mixed results. Markus Wheaton is a sub-average talent I haven’t used at all. But with all the chips down last week, the Steelers benched Martavis for running a poor route that resulted in an interception. Afterward, Ben Roethlisberger ripped into Bryant for not being tough enough and not making enough plays. Meanwhile, the trust with Wheaton is actually there. Over the last six weeks, he has gotten 7.8 targets per game and 11 red-zone targets overall. As noted by Chris Raybon, that’s the same as Antonio Brown and tied for fourth in the entire NFL. The matchup with Leon Hall is not easy, but Wheaton is still in play at just $4000.
CONTRARIAN GPP PLAYS
1. Pairing Redskins stacks with James Starks
When making GPP lineups this week, the narrow player pool will lead us to a lot of players from the same game. We need to ensure the pieces fit. Let’s say we go with a chalky Kirk Cousins/Jordan Reed stack. If that pair goes absolutely ham in the first half, the Packers will be forced to give James Starks more work at the expense of Fat Ed Lacy. Not only has Lacy been ineffective for much of the year, but he’s now nursing a rib injury and the Packers prefer Starks in 2- and 4-minute situations anyway. Aaron Rodgers, sick of the ineptitude of the power run game, said this week that “maybe I have to adjust my mindset and kind of let it fly a little more.” More passing means more Starks.
2. Vikings defense in freezing temperatures
Fantasy players typically overreact to weather. Standard rain, snow and cold really don’t affect the box score. However, I think extreme weather is something worth noting. The forecast for Sunday’s Seahawks at Vikings game calls for temperatures around zero degrees with wind chills dipping down to negative-20 degrees. The only Seahawk I’m on is Marshawn Lynch, who hasn’t played since Week 10 due to his abdomen injury but is practicing in full and should push toward 20 touches. The contrarian play is Vikings defense as they’re the biggest underdog on the slate but are at home in these freezing temps. They have at least two sacks in eight straight games, a run that includes 14 in the last three.
UPDATE: Marshawn Lynch is OUT for Wild Card Weekend. Christine Michael and Bryce Brown should see more touches in his absence
WHO I’M CONSIDERING IN DRAFTKINGS CASH GAMES
(No particular order)
QB: Ben Roethlisberger, Kirk Cousins
RB: Fitzgerald Toussaint, Eddie Lacy, Alfred Morris, Spencer Ware
WR: Antonio Brown, DeAndre Hopkins, Jeremy Maclin, DeSean Jackson, James Jones, A.J. Green
TE: Jordan Reed, Tyler Eifert, Heath Miller
D: Seahawks, Vikings, Chiefs, Texans