Well, we’re finally here. Seventeen long weeks of regular season action, followed by two of the best conference championship games I can recall. It’s all been part of a fun ride to get to one of the greatest traditions in sport: the best team from the NFC squaring off with the Patriots. So, as New England attempts to win its [checks notes] 800th Super Bowl this coming Sunday, I ask you, the fans, what could possibly make this day more interesting? Chicken wings? Celebrity cameos in mildly amusing commercials? Maroon 5? How about taking home $1,000,000 in a Showdown contest on DraftKings? That seems pretty ideal.
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.
Let’s dive in.
Note: All salaries will be Flex prices unless noted as Captain’s Pick prices.
ADAM LEVITAN’S TARGET PROJECTIONS
Gerald Everett, $3,000 Captain’s Pick, $2,000 Flex — The Patriots were dominant against wideouts this season thanks to the exceptional corner play of Stephon Gilmore and Jason McCourty. A good way to attack them is via tight ends. Note that Everett ran 28 routes against the Saints while Tyler Higbee ran just 15. Everett has at least four targets in four of his past six games.
Projection: 4 targets
Phillip Dorsett, $6,300 Captain’s Pick, $4,200 Flex — Dorsett has played a big role in each of the Patriots’ playoff games, running 53 routes on 90 Tom Brady dropbacks. That’s resulted in eight targets and two touchdowns while dwarfing Chris Hogan in air yards. In seven games without Josh Gordon this season, Dorsett averaged 4.5 targets per game.
Projection: 4 targets
Five Betting Trends
— Four of the past five Super Bowls have been won by the underdogs
— Five of the past six Super Bowls have gone OVER the total points line
— In each of the Patriots’ past three Super Bowls, the highest scoring quarter has been the second
— Sony Michel has scored the first touchdown in three of the Patriots’ past four games
— C.J. Anderson has scored at least one touchdown in three of the Rams’ past four games
Stats provided by DraftKings Sportsbook
If the Patriots Win…Coming into last weekend’s AFC Championship, the concern hovering around the Patriots’ offense was simple enough. New England had struggled to score away from Gillette Field in 2018, averaging nearly two touchdowns fewer per regular season contest. Well, after consistently moving the ball against the Chiefs, that issue likely has been pushed out of the forefront of everyone’s mind — despite the Super Bowl obviously being played at a neutral site. No, I’m not afraid that the Patriots will have much trouble finding the end zone against the Rams; but I am somewhat concerned with how involved Tom Brady ($10,600) will be.
While the future Hall of Fame QB was forced to throw the ball 46 times versus Kansas City, much of that is a product of ball control. New England ran 97 offensive plays, something it’d be hard-pressed to recreate. This volume distribution gets even more one-sided when the Patriots have been in high-leverage scoring situations so far in these playoffs. Through two games, New England has run the ball on 13 of its 18 plays inside the opponent’s 10 yard-line; with that ratio jumping to 11-to-1 when within five yards of pay dirt. Now, much of this distinct offensive philosophy could be correlated with the Chiefs owning the most putrid rushing defense in football, yet, it’s not as if Los Angeles fared much better. For the entire campaign, the Rams ranked as the fifth- worst run unit by DVOA, allowing 4.91 raw yards to running backs on a per carry basis. In fact, only the lowly Cardinals surrendered more to opposing RBs. Brady easily could flip the script — he’s, you know, Tom Brady — however, if the Patriots want to continue to exploit weaknesses, the pivot’s touchdown expectancy remains underwhelming.
So, now it’s just a matter of figuring out which of New England’s three viable running backs is the best one to own. Let’s begin with the most expensive option: James White ($7,200). White is coming off a somewhat quiet showing against Kansas City, hauling in only four receptions on six targets. While I do believe history suggests White will be more involved versus the Rams, likely seeing seven-to-nine targets, this doesn’t appear to be his ideal matchup. At a minuscule 4.7 yards per target to the position, no NFC squad was more efficient at limiting running backs in the passing game during the regular season than Los Angeles. The Rams also were one of only four teams to allow fewer than 30 receiving yards per contest to opposing backfields, joining the Ravens, Panthers and Titans in that regard. Plus, if the Patriots truly are going to run the ball more often than not in the red zone, it’s unlikely White would be the recipient of those premium carries. Instead, those would go where they’ve been going all year: Sony Michel ($6,800) — the AFC leader in rushes inside the 20 yard-line (58).
Michel has been an unstoppable force of nature in the playoffs to this point, averaging a robust 31.1 DKFP per game. With how susceptible the Rams have been to run-first RBs from a fantasy perspective, I just can’t see a scenario where Michel doesn’t continue to have his way Sunday evening. Really, the only way I see things going sideways is sequencing. Though Michel did lead all New England running backs in offensive snaps last week, the margin wasn’t massive. Michel lined up for 34 snaps to White’s 33, while Rex Burkhead ($4,800) played 30 and vultured the final two TDs of the contest. The price discrepancy between the trio seems too wide, especially with how multi-faceted Burkhead’s role can be. He’s more than viable at his salary and actually pairs well with Michel in a lineup, giving an owner complete control of the Patriots’ goal line attack.
Finally, we get to the receiving options. Though Julian Edelman’s ($10,800) price might be difficult to swallow with the initial concerns expressed about Brady’s upside; there remains a better-than-average chance the slot WR finishes the game as New England’s leading pass-catcher in a spot where he saw double-digit targets. He’s viable, but it all depends on what narrative you’re working from. Same can be said of Rob Gronkowski ($6,000), who seemingly was removed from storage last week. Much like the Chiefs, the Rams struggled to contain opposing tight ends in 2018, especially when Aqib Talib was healthy. The corner’s presence often created a funnel effect to TEs, with an NFL-high 66 passes directed at the position during the eight games Talib was active during the regular season. Still, the most interesting case at wideout is Phillip Dorsett ($4,200). The former first-round pick recently has emerged as the Patriots’ deep threat, with his 16.6 aDOT leading the team throughout the playoffs. His target share will be sparse, but he’s caught touchdowns in each of his past two games and should see a lot of Marcus Peters in direct coverage. That’s more than enough to be considered.
If the Rams Win…It feels a little bit foreign to see Jared Goff ($10,000) as the highest-priced Rams player on the biggest slate of the season, yet it’s hard to argue his salary considering the circumstances. Though Goff has accounted for only a single touchdown in these playoffs, the once extremely simple hierarchy of Los Angeles’ offense has dissipated in recent weeks, leaving the quarterback as the lone candidate for the honor. It’s not like there isn’t an obvious path to Goff having a huge performance, either. Playing as the QB for the underdog team in a contest with a huge projected total is never going to be a bad thing. There’s also the matter of New England’s pass defense being slightly fraudulent. Though the Patriots didn’t allow a 300-yard passer from Week 8 on, the list of quarterbacks they faced in that span is pretty underwhelming. It includes Josh McCown, Derek Anderson, Josh Allen, Ryan Tannehill and Sam Darnold — and that’s all without even leaving the AFC East. When you include Marcus Mariota and the Titans, New England actually faced the worst, second-worst, third-worst and fourth-worst passing offenses in the AFC for six of its final nine games of the season. Goff’s not exactly Patrick Mahomes, but he’s certainly superior to that fodder.
Anyway, let’s get back to the fluctuating offensive hierarchy. There was a time when this Rams team lived and died at the hands (feet?) of Todd Gurley ($9,000). There was a point when he led the NFL in touches, scrimmage yards and touchdowns; all with a constantly rising salary that would make even James Harden blush. That is no longer the case. After succumbing to a late-season injury, Gurley’s had a difficult time regaining the grasp of his bell cow status, a notion we saw play out in real time against the Saints. Despite insisting he was at 100 percent health, Gurley finished the NFC Championship with only five touches to his name, being out-snapped 37-to-32 by C.J. Anderson ($5,200). So, there are two ways to look at this as it pertains to Showdown.
In an optimistic sense, you’re getting a massive bargain when it comes to Gurley’s price; at least when that price is juxtaposed to what we know his ceiling can be. Gurley scored 30-plus DKFP in half of the regular season contests he played in during 2018. That’s a hard thing to overlook. However, you also would be right to question why the running back with more snaps, touches and fantasy points across the past two weeks is nearly $4K less expensive than his counterpart. For as simple as it would make things, I don’t think Anderson suddenly is going to disappear during the Super Bowl. I believe he’ll get roughly double-digit carries; though, without much of a passing-game element, that wouldn’t be enough for him to hit value without a touchdown. Will that workload leave Gurley with enough touches to be viable versus an exploitable Patriots run defense? It’s possible. Certainly, the odds would favor that outcome if Los Angeles is playing from out in front. At the end of the day, Gurley’s salary reduction makes him a tantalizing option, but one I’d be uncomfortable putting in as my Captain’s Pick. He just doesn’t possess enough of a floor.
On the complete opposite end of that spectrum, we find Robert Woods ($7,800). A man with almost too much floor. While you can set your watch to the fact Woods will catch at least five passes this Sunday, he lacks the ceiling to make him a must-own player on this particular slate. He hasn’t exceeded 100 yards receiving going all the way back to Week 6 and, though I initially assumed he’d reap the red zone rewards of Cooper Kupp’s season-ending injury, it instead has been Josh Reynolds ($5,400) seeing those high-leverage targets in and around the end zone. Reynolds leads the Rams with 11 red zone receiving opportunities since Week 11; a factor that always makes him a possible mid-tier value option. It’s Brandin Cooks ($8,200) who really intrigues me, however. We’re now in the second week of Cooks’ revenge tour, and the big-play wideout appears to be in a pretty enviable spot. Cooks should see a lot of J.C. Jackson, a rookie who looked a little overwhelmed at times against Kansas City. The Chiefs weren’t the first team to try and pick on Jackson, either. With the receiver he’d been covering targeted on 20 percent of routes this year, Jackson was New England’s busiest CB. To give that level of expected volume to a WR that already leads his team in yards per reception is a dangerous combination.
Also, despite being the one to catch the touchdown last Sunday, Tyler Higbee ($2,200) was once again out-snapped by Gerald Everett ($2,000). This will be the first week in some time Higbee is higher-priced than his teammate and, with Everett clearly owning the more fantasy-oriented skill-set, that just shouldn’t be the case. You don’t necessarily have to use one of the duo; yet, if you’re so inclined, make sure it’s Everett.
Running backs. Running backs are going to be the key to taking down this slate. While I trust Michel ($10,200 CP) the most of any backfield option this weekend, Gurley and Burkhead are more than viable flex pieces in your lineup. I also strongly am leaning the Patriots’ direction when it comes to picking a winner, a thought process that only enhances my adoration of Michel. Still, if you wanted to run that particular script back with either Goff ($15,000 CP) or Cooks ($12,300 CP) at 1.5x value, I wouldn’t fight you on that philosophy.
Final Score: New England 34, Los Angeles 28
I am a promoter at DraftKings and am also an avid fan and user (my username is theglt13) 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.