Throughout the season, I suggested that you should almost always play your highest-value quarterbacks, even in large GPPs, because quarterback usage is rarely very high in a normal slate. On average, just one quarterback checked in above 10 percent usage each week in 2014, so the merits of being contrarian (selecting an against-the-grain quarterback) were minimal.
Well, being contrarian is the name of the game in the NFL playoffs. Almost every player has relatively high usage, and some are through the roof. That doesn’t mean you should automatically fade them (Antonio Brown was the best play last week, even though we knew he’d see ridiculous usage). But when two players are close in value, it makes sense to go with the one you think will give you the most unique lineup in the NFL playoffs.
As was the case last week, there are only eight quarterbacks to study for the Divisional Round of the postseason. Here’s a look at how I believe each one will perform.
Aaron Rodgers, Green Bay vs Dallas, $8900 – The Broncos are projected the most favorably in Vegas, but the Packers are right up there at 29.5 points. The thing to like about playing Rodgers in a tournament, besides the fact that he’s freaking awesome, is that he pairs so nicely with Jordy Nelson and Randall Cobb, who see a ridiculously high percentage of his targets.
Playing Rodgers, Nelson, and Cobb in a single lineup this week will be next to impossible, though – seriously, try it – so you’re probably going to need to pick just one. I think Dallas has the potential to struggle with smaller receivers, so Cobb might be the better choice. He’s also cheaper and could potentially see lighter usage, too.
Andrew Luck, Indianapolis at Denver, $8700 – Luck is a really interesting player because he performs so well when the Colts get down in games, and there’s a very good chance he’ll be losing in this one. The Broncos are currently touchdown favorites, and the spread is 54 points. That means Vegas surprisingly has Indy at just 23.5 points, which is a bit scary. However, I still like Luck because 1) the game flow should result in a lot of passing attempts and 2) he accounts for such a high percentage of the Colts’ fantasy production that 23.5 points for them could be like 30 projected points for other passers.
Peyton Manning, Denver vs Indianapolis, $8400 – I’ve been thinking the Broncos will switch back to their air-it-out-on-every-play offensive attack for a few weeks, but they just continue to ride C.J. Anderson. I still believe we’re going to see Peyton Manning throw the ball more than we did to end the regular season, but Denver’s ability to run means they could keep it on the ground late in the game. Even though the Broncos are projected ridiculously well, I think I still prefer Luck in this contest.
However, note that Demaryius Thomas is the most expensive wide receiver against the league’s second-best defense against receivers. That could lead to him being under-owned (maybe), which would give more value to a Manning/Thomas/Thomas trio.
Tom Brady, New England vs Baltimore, $7800 – Brady hasn’t thrown three touchdowns in a game since Week 9. I love the Brady/Gronk pairing pretty much every week, though, and I think there’s a very good chance the Pats come out firing against a Baltimore defense that’s the best in the league against the run, but mediocre versus the pass. The Brady/Gronk connection has more touchdown upside than any pair in the playoffs because of the tight end’s ability to find the end zone.
Russell Wilson, Seattle vs Carolina, $7800 – Wilson’s value comes down to whether or not he’s going to run the ball. That’s a difficult thing to project; there doesn’t really seem to be too much of a pattern as to when he takes off on the ground in a given game. I think he’s a surprisingly high-variance player this week because we don’t really know exactly how much he’ll run (or throw if Seattle gets up big), but that might be good for GPPs. It’s also a potential positive that you don’t need to stack Wilson with anyone. You can run Doug Baldwin out there, if you prefer, or you could just use Wilson solely for his rushing upside and load up on other games otherwise.
Tony Romo, Dallas at Green Bay, $7600 – The Cowboys were trying to run the ball on Detroit – one of the league’s top run defenses in 2014 – so I don’t think there’s any question they’re going to run the ball early and often in this game. It might even make sense for them to do that just to shorten the game, keep it close, and try to steal it late.
As much as I think late game flow could result in a lot of attempts for Romo, I still think Dallas is going to run the ball so much as long as they’re in the game that it will cut into Romo’s upside. Note that it will also be extremely cold in this contest, and passing efficiency tends to plummet in really low temperatures.
Joe Flacco, Baltimore at New England, $6900 – Of all the quarterbacks playing this weekend, I think Flacco will have either the lowest or second-lowest usage (next to Cam Newton). I’m not entirely sure where I stand on him right now. Vegas doesn’t like Baltimore all that much (20.5 points), and it’s possible that Baltimore will try their hardest to run the ball a lot. I also don’t like that you can’t really effectively stack a receiver with Flacco in the same way that a Brady/Gronk pairing is obvious and highly correlated, for example.
Cam Newton, Carolina at Seattle, $6700 – Newton is a tough player to analyze. He’s playing the top defense in the NFL and the Panthers are projected terribly. With the line at 39.5 points and the Seahawks 11-point favorites, Carolina is projected to score only 14.25 points in this game. Even though Newton offers lots of upside as a runner – especially against good pass defenses since he takes off on the ground more when no one is open – that’s just not a lot of meat left on the bone for touchdown scoring. I’m going to look into this situation more throughout the week because I definitely think Newton will be unpopular, but my initial reaction is to fade him because of how unlikely it is that the Panthers score even 20 points.
Like I did last week, I’m going to divide each quarterback’s salary by the points Vegas is projecting his team to score to give you a sort of “upside per dollar” value. There’s more that goes into quarterback analysis, of course, but it’s a good way to immediately see how many team points you can expect on a per-dollar basis. A lower number is better.
Aaron Rodgers – $302
Andrew Luck – $370
Peyton Manning – $275
Tom Brady – $283
Russell Wilson – $309
Tony Romo – $323
Joe Flacco – $337
Cam Newton – $470
Yikes, Cam. Even though Newton accounts for a high percentage of his team’s scoring, the numbers aren’t on his side this week. Manning and Brady actually come out as the top values with this method, with the primary concern being that they get some of their scoring stolen from the running game.
Finally, this could be evidence that Rodgers is a better play than initially expected. The Packers are projected very well and, as long as you think Dallas will keep it close enough to force Rodgers to continue throwing, maybe it’s a week to pay up for the top quarterback.