Daily fantasy football: Expert picks, lineups for conference title games
Every season must eventually come to an end. If this must be the final DFS week of the 2016-17 football season, at least it promises to be filled with fireworks. The league’s two most explosive offenses meet in the NFC Championship Game, a matchup that features an over/under of 60 points. Over in the AFC, Tom Brady, Dion Lewis and the Patriots host two of fantasy football’s singular forces, Le’Veon Bell and Antonio Brown, along with the rest of the explosive Steelers. That game is expected to play to a measly 50.5 points. This is the way all DFS seasons should end.
Below are my ideal DFS picks for both DraftKings and FanDuel. I will be playing lineups other than the ones I present here, but these are my go-to lineups for both sites. I would also like to take this opportunity to thank you all for reading our DFS columns this season. We hope that we brought you analysis that helped you fill your lineups, entertaining columns and, of course, a little extra spending money. We can’t wait to do it all again next season.
Quarterback: Matt Ryan (DK: $7,700, FD: $9,200)
Initially, this was Aaron Rodgers. With the way he’s playing and the expected score and pace in the NFC Championship Game, he seemed an easy choice. That was before we learned the severity of Davante Adams’s ankle injury. With Jordy Nelson either playing at well less than 100% or missing his second straight game and Geronimo Allison dealing with a hamstring injury, Rodgers could be without three of his top four receivers. He can still make that work, but it’s awfully hard to justify paying $8,100 for him on DraftKings and $9,600 for him on FanDuel given all those injuries, as well as the fact that you can save a few hundred backs grabbing Ryan instead.
You don’t need me to tell you how well Ryan individually—and the Falcons’ offense collectively—has played this season. What you might not realize, though, is that the Falcons have an implied total of 32.5 points. By rostering Ryan, you’re getting fantasy’s No. 2 quarterback and an MVP candidate who leads arguably the best offense in the league into a game in which they’re expected to score 32.5 points. Even at his hefty price tag, Ryan is the best quarterback play, dollar for dollar, this weekend.
Running Backs: Le’Veon Bell (DK: $10,300, FD: $9,500); Devonta Freeman (DK: $7,200, FD: $8,000); Ty Montgomery (DK: $5,600, FD: $6,900); Dion Lewis (DK: $5,300, FD: $7,000)
Just like last week, I cannot afford Bell on DraftKings but can get him into my FanDuel lineup. The Chiefs managed to slow down Ben Roethlisberger last week, but Bell still carved them up for 170 yards on the ground. I understand concerns surrounding Roethlisberger and the Pittsburgh passing attack on the road against a superior opponent, but no matter what happens around him, Bell delivers in a big way for his fantasy owners. If you’re going to get a piece of the Pittsburgh offense, this is the way to do it.
Freeman and Tevin Coleman are both strong plays this week, and in lineups with Le’Veon Bell, Coleman is the Atlanta back of choice. Still, I have more confidence in the combinations that feature Freeman at the top. Freeman’s a good bet to get two out of every three touches coming from the Atlanta backfield, and he has been a monster in home games over the last two seasons. That continued last week, when he totaled 125 yards and a touchdown against the Seahawks. Bell is obviously the better choice in a vacuum, but it’s nearly impossible on either site to roster Rodgers or Matt Ryan alongside Bell. If you pay up at quarterback, as I have done, you’re going to have to deal with the uncomfortable reality of bypassing Bell. Freeman makes that a palatable route to take.
Montgomery is possibly the most boom-or-bust player left in the playoffs, and there’s good reason to bet on a boom for the second straight week. The Falcons allowed the most receptions (109) and second-most receiving yards (870) to backs this season. Montgomery got seven targets last week, and even if Jordy Nelson is able to return from his rib injury on Sunday, the chances of him having a huge role in the offense are slim. That would likely mean another hefty target total for Montgomery. Anyone expected to get double-digit touches in Packers-Falcons is a strong DFS play, and Montgomery could easily top 15 opportunities.
The Patriots made it plain as day all season that they had Lewis on a timetable that would have him back in the role he made so lucrative last season in their first playoff game. It started by placing him on the PUP list to start the season, and continued when they eased him along after activating him in the second half of the year. That plan culminated last week, when Lewis totaled 64 yards from scrimmage and two touchdowns on 15 touches and seven targets. He also handled kickoff return duties for the Patriots, adding a third there touchdown for good measure. Packers-Falcons is getting all the attention, but the over/under in the AFC Championship Game is a healthy 50.5 points. Given the firepower on the Pittsburgh offense, this once again has the feel of a Lewis game, rather than a LeGarrette Blount game. Lewis is set for another big performance.
Wide Receivers: Julio Jones (DK: $8,200, FD: $8,800); Randall Cobb (DK: $5,900, FD: $6,500); Eli Rogers (DK: $3,400, FD: $4,900)
Jones caught three passes for 29 yards when these teams met in the regular season, with Green Bay defensive coordinator Dom Capers employing an “anyone-but-Julio” strategy. The Falcons scored 33 points in that game, and Matt Ryan threw for 288 yards, 8.23 YPA and three touchdowns, so the Packers, in a way, cut off their nose to spite their face. Even with that shutting down of one of the league’s best receivers, the Packers allowed the most points to the position this season, and that doesn’t include what Dez Bryant did to them last week. Jones’s turf toe is a bit of a concern, but he’s nearly as strong a play as Antonio Brown at a significantly cheaper price.
Cobb’s spot was supposed to belong to Davante Adams, but with his health in question after the Packers revealed his ankle injury was more serious than originally thought, a pivot became necessary. Cobb struggled mightily last season when he was the No. 1 receiver in Green Bay, but he’s the only healthy receiver on the roster right now, and it’d be quite the stretch to believe the Falcons will shut down Aaron Rodgers because of the injuries to his receiving corps. Cobb isn’t going to suddenly morph into Jordy Nelson or Adams, but his price point doesn’t require him to play like a WR1. Even if Nelson and Adams can play, Cobb could easily see 10-plus targets in this game. When you consider the context—a game with an over/under of 60 and Rodgers’s arm on the other side of those targets—it’s easy to see why you want Cobb in your lineup.
With all the money spent at quarterback, running back and receiver, value is paramount for this final spot at the receiver position. Rogers satisfies that requirement while giving us an avenue of investment into the Steelers. The Patriots did struggle with slot receivers early in the season, with Larry Fitzgerald (8-81-2), Jarvis Landry (10-137) and Doug Baldwin (6-59-3) all burning them. Rogers clearly isn’t that caliber of receiver, and the Patriots were better against the position over the second half of the regular season, but Rogers should have plenty of chances with the defense focused on Bell and Brown.
Tight End: Martellus Bennett (DK: $3,300, FD: $5,500)
Jared Cook is the obvious play at the position, but I simply could not afford him in either lineup. Bennett hasn’t done much since Rob Gronkowski went on IR and has been hampered by ankle and shoulder problems all season. Still, if you can’t pay up for Cook, he’s the clear choice at the position over Jesse James, Austin Hooper or Richard Rodgers. He did find the end zone in three of his final four regular season games, and he gives us another line of investment in a New England offense that has an implied total of 28 points.
Kicker: Chris Boswell (FD: $4,600)
This has nothing to do with chasing last week’s points and everything to do with the fact that Boswell is the cheapest kicker. We could see 110 or more points between the two championship games this week. This is not a time to go splurging on a kicker.
Defense/Special Teams: Green Bay Packers (DK: $2,000, FD: $4,000)
Everything written about Boswell applies here, minus the angle of chasing last week’s points. The four teams still playing were four of the five or six best offenses all season. No defense stands much of a chance of slowing down its opponent this week, though the Patriots admittedly have the highest ceiling and safest floor. Still, when the two game totals add up to 110.5 points, there’s little reason to invest any real capital into a defense.
QB: Matt Ryan
RB1: Devonta Freeman
RB2: Ty Montgomery
WR1: Julio Jones
WR2: Randall Cobb
WR3: Eli Rogers
TE: Martellus Bennett
FLEX: Dion Lewis
DST: Green Bay Packers
QB: Aaron Rodgers
RB1: Le’Veon Bell
RB2: Dion Lewis
WR1: Julio Jones
WR2: Randall Cobb
WR3: Eli Rogers
TE: Martellus Bennett
K: Chris Boswell
DEF: Green Bay Packers