In our Fantasy Playoff Strategy article we talked about some of the different kinds of playoff leagues you might play. For instance, FFPC leagues are ones where you set your lineup at the start of the playoffs and then you don’t set them again. This article obviously isn’t for people playing in those leagues because your lineup is already set. But you should read the article anyway because, contrary to what Coach Herman Boone would tell you, football is fun.
Instead, we are looking towards Daily Fantasy or leagues like Rob Norton’s Baby Bowl, the NFL Playoff Challenge, or whatever else you’ve managed to cook up to cling to fantasy football. These are all leagues where you need to set a new lineup each week. In some leagues you might have restrictions on what players you can use or not so we’re just going to do what’s easiest for both us and you - give you the chalk play, give you the contrarian play, and give you a play we are avoiding. For all eight teams.
And when playoffs are done? We’ll talk dynasty. Then free agency. Then the combine. Then the draft. Then dynasty drafts. Then best ball drafts. Then seasonal drafts. Then before you know it, football will be back. Because there is no offseason here. FOOTBALL NEVER ENDS.
The Chalk: Ja’Marr Chase
For those unaware, “chalk” typically refers to a heavily favored side of a bet. Oftentimes it’s the best play but it’s also usually the most popular play so, in leagues where you need to out-maneuver your opponents, you have a decision to make. Picking the chalk often gets you the most points but there is a lot of leverage to be gained by nailing the underdog play.
In his last three “real” games (since they weren’t playing to win vs. Cleveland), Ja’Marr Chase has had 125 yards, 266 yards, and 116 yards. He’s the obvious play and Vegas has the Bengals slated to lose this week so anyone who hasn’t used him yet is likely to do so. So your first decision is whether you want to zig here or zag.
Contrarian: Tyler Boyd
The contrarian play is obviously where you zig when others zag. Our editor Jon Impemba with his Contrarian Corner is the “Zig Master” and he’s made a lot of people a lot of money this season in DFS. And one thing I’ve learned from him is that, once you decide not to zag with the chalk play, you need to make sure you are zigging far enough. In this case, according to Football Outsiders DVOA, the Titans have the 15th DVOA vs. the WR1 (Chase) and the 17th DVOA vs the WR2 (Tee Higgins). A lot of folks will be going to Higgins so he’s not far enough off the beaten path - especially with no matchup advantage. In this case I’d go with Tyler Boyd, especially if you’ve already used Chase. They are middle of the pack vs. the top two options but the Titans are the 3rd worst team in DVOA vs. the WR3/4 and, if the Bengals win again, you can still use whichever WR you have left next week.
Fade: CJ Uzomah
This really doesn’t need to be a long write up. With Chase, Higgins, Boyd, and Mixon, Uzomah is the fifth option at best and he’s been targeted that way. The Titans are a top ~5 defense vs. the tight end. And there are a ton of tight end options. So just don’t do it.
The Chalk: AJ Brown
Your fellow fantasy gamers are often more predictable than they think they are. And so are we. A lot of us are thinking “well I can’t trust Derrick Henry but him being back also makes me not want to trust D’Onta Foreman. So I’ll just go with AJ Brown.” Did you think that? I certainly did. And I’m thinking it right now. Brown is clearly the safest play considering Julio Jones is an injury risk on a limited snap share and the only other guy playing full snaps is Nick Westbrook-Ikhine. And the tight ends are irrelevant. So that makes Brown the safest bet from this team. Sometimes it’s as simple as that.
Contrarian: Julio Jones
The aforementioned injuries and snap counts are what will keep people off Julio. And that makes a lot of sense because he hasn’t played more than 75% of the snaps since week two. But there are also two things that we know that others might not. One is that the snap numbers don’t matter as much as routes run. Here are those numbers from the last game for the Titans - a must win game.
At this point in the year I’m not super interested in WR blocking snaps are you? Give me the routes. The other “secret” is actually pretty well known but it’s that Chidobe Awuzie is pretty good. He’ll be matched up on AJ Brown and the Bengals are top 6 in DVOA vs. WR1s. Against the second WR? 27th. That’s what makes Julio our top secret contrarian play.
Fade: Running Backs
We kind of alluded to this but we aren’t taking that risk - especially since it will be a popular play anyway. Plus the Bengals are allowing the 7th fewest rushing yards per game. You can absolutely take that risk if you want since Derrick Henry is awesome (or go Foreman if you think he doesn’t play much). Just letting you know that we aren’t doing it.
SAN FRANCISCO 49ERS
The Chalk: Deebo Samuel
“Why waste time say lot word when few word do trick?” - Kevin Malone, The Office. This Deebo guy is the focal point of the offense. Everyone knows it. He plays running back and wide receiver. His upside is monstrous, but everyone will be using him. Clearly, the chalk.
Contrarian: Elijah Mitchell
This team has a strong offensive line, anchored by Trent Williams who I believe should be in the conversation for Offensive Player of the Year. Here are Elijah Mitchell’s rush attempts the last six games he’s played: 27, 27, 22, 21, 21, 27. That’s six straight games where he’s gotten at least 20 carries. The Packers are allowing 4.7 yards per rush which is actually the second worst in the entire league. Twenty carries at 4.7 yards is almost 100 yards right there. People are going to be clambering for Deebo but, if the Niners want any shot, it goes through Mitchell.
Fade: George Kittle
Look at the last few games for Kittle.
That’s yucky. Looks like something you’d get from Anthony Firkser. The problem you get with Kittle is two fold. One is that he’s an awesome blocker which has them asking him to stay in and block on 13.6% of his snaps. That’s almost 70 pass plays he could have run this year but didn’t. The other is that teams know he’s awesome so they scheme to take him away. He’s going to see a good amount of DeVondre Campbell who is one of the top graded linebackers this season on PFF and was one of the big reasons the Cardinals were a top team vs. the tight end last year (before the Packers swooped in and signed him). I love George Kittle and think he’s arguably the best two way tight end in the league which makes me sad to say I’m fading him for this week. Maybe start him next week if he bounces back.
GREEN BAY PACKERS
The Chalk: Davante Adams
Here’s another one where not much needs to be said. This guy literally has 100 more targets than the next closest guy on the team. There is no Packer success without Davante Adams success. That’s what makes him the chalk of all chalk. Aaron Rodgers isn’t going to outscore your other quarterback options without this guy having a day. So he’s the safest play.
Contrarian: Aaron Jones
A lot of folks are going to get cute with AJ Dillon. And to that I say - let ‘em. The reality of this situation is that, when both were fully healthy, Aaron Jones was outsnapping AJ Dillon in every game. He’s the one that gets the high leverage plays on pass downs and in crunch time. After he got hurt, they eased him back and let Dillon share the workload. They even rested Jones because they had the bye week locked up. But Jones is back practicing fully this week and it’s win or go home so this is the exact time I expect them to lean on the veteran. Some folks are scared of this play but we have no fear at all.
Fade: Other Niners WRs
We often look at matchups, grades, injuries, DVOA to see where we can get an advantage by pivoting. And, in this matchup, there is none. In fact, the 49ers are the second worst team in DVOA vs the top WR per Football Outsiders which bodes well for Adams - not the ancillary pieces. Unlike the Bengals who are top heavy at cornerback, the 49ers are pretty mediocre all around. There are better and more reliable options.
LOS ANGELES RAMS
The Chalk: Cooper Kupp
This guy is just the definition of chalk right now. Even in a “bad” game last week he scored a touchdown. The only reason he could be “contrarian” is if everyone used him last week so you are the only one that still has him available to use. In which case, get him in there!
Contrarian: Matthew Stafford
If you are looking for the contrarian play that has just as big of upside as any other play out there it’s Matt Stafford. He’s got the weapons. He’s got the arm. He’s got the playcalling. Both offenses have some of the fastest paces in the league. Why can’t Matthew Stafford come out and have a monster game? He literally threw for 343 yards and four touchdowns against this exact team earlier in the season. So many people are going to sit there wondering if they should go chalk with Kupp or contrarian with OBJ or super contrarian with Van Jefferson when the answer might just be Stafford.
Fade: Rams Running Backs
This situation is honestly a lot like the Titans for me. There is a question as to which running back will get the bulk of the work out of Cam Akers or Sony Michel (or whether they just split). Like the Titans, it’s also not even a good matchup for RBs. But even worse than the Titans, the Rams are the underdogs here, playing on the road. Racking up huge rushing numbers is often the luxury of the winning team. So you’re looking for a lot of things to break exactly your way. I mean, the Rams COULD win this game by a bunch and run the ball a ton and it could just be the guy you didn’t pick. That would be tragic and it makes the play inherently risky.
TAMPA BAY BUCCANEERS
The Chalk: Tom Brady
Brady has been a FORCE at home. He has 25 touchdowns to four interceptions in nine games at home (18 to eight in nine on the road). This is honestly one of the times where we are really leaning into the chalk with our matchups. Brady himself has said that he often knows where the ball is going before he even has it in his hand. And that’s because he’s seen all the coverages and all the matchups and he knows what is going to work and what isn’t. That inherently leads him to not hold onto the ball or play favorites with where the ball goes and knowing who the “favorite” is helps us a lot when choosing pass catchers. It also explains why Cameron Brate gets so many random targets. It doesn’t matter who is lining up in that spot - Tom knows if they will be open and that’s where it’s going.
Contrarian: Tyler Johnson
In a moment you are going to read why we don’t love Mike Evans for this week. That inherently means the contrarian play needs to be someone else and Rob Gronkowski simply isn’t contrarian enough. Enter: Tyler Johnson. Since AB threw his most recent hissy fit, Johnson has outsnapped Breshad Perriman in every game and last week ran 36 routes to only 26 for Perriman. The ball needs to go somewhere and Johnson becomes the de facto next best candidate. The last time these teams played early in the season, Johnson oddly had 63 yards on six targets even while Chris Godwin was still playing. If you are going to dip down and go with a really sneaky play somewhere, it should be right here.
Fade: Mike Evans
This really just boils down to us not liking the matchup. With no Antonio Brown or Chris Godwin, there is no reason why the Rams wouldn’t put Jalen Ramsey on Mike Evans. And we just talked about how Tom Brady is a robot person that doesn’t play favorites so we also see no reason why he would force it to Evans. We’ve seen Mike Evans disappear against shadow coverage with guys like Marshawn Lattimore and James Bradberry so there really is no reason to risk it here.
Everyone knows that it’s these two. Josh Allen is a one man wrecking crew. And Stefon Diggs is his locked in number one. Josh Allen is probably the safest possible play considering how the offense runs through him - especially in four point passing leagues. But Stefon Diggs has shown he’s capable of monster performances as well with five games so far this season with 13 or more targets. The Chiefs don’t really have a lockdown corner to take him away so either of these guys are nice.
Contrarian: Devin Singletary
There are a lot of people out there who are still afraid of a “split” between him and Zack Moss (or maybe they are still thinking about Matt Breida, I don’t know). But that’s pretty much gone now. Since week 10 Singletary has outsnapped Moss in every single game and the last three games he’s been at 80%, 76%, and 86%. It’s not often that a clear starting RB is “contrarian” but so many people are going to sit there thinking the decision boils down to just Allen or Diggs when it doesn’t. He’s hiding in plain sight.
Fade: Dawson Knox
In these tournaments, there is such a small player pool and so many opponents we are playing against that we want massive upside. We want to go BIG. And Dawson Knox isn’t the “big” play that you think he is. Sure he had 100 yards against Kansas City last time they played but a lot of that was on a blown coverage play that amounted to 53 yards for Knox. So that was his only 100 yard game of the season and he did it on four targets. In fact, he hasn’t surpassed five targets in five games now. He’s obviously a red zone threat but there are a bunch of tight ends left that are also red zone threats while being much more likely to get double digit targets and 100+ yards. The upside for Knox is that he scores two touchdowns but that’s the upside for literally every pass catcher. Jauan Jennings just scored two touchdowns in a game - so what? We want 10 catches, 100 yards, and two touchdowns!
Kansas City Chiefs
This team is obviously a three-headed chalk monster. Everyone knows it. And, if your strategy was to start one in each week, that’s a pretty decent move. If I was going to start any one this week, it would be Tyreek Hill. It’s not a great matchup for Kelce as the Bills are rock solid vs. the tight end – so Hill almost has to be a featured piece of the offense. Plus, the Bills don’t have Tre White to really act as that shut down guy. But honestly, you can’t go wrong with any of them. And you already know that. This article is long enough.
Contrarian: Byron Pringle
The cat may already be out of the bag on this one but Byron Pringle has established himself as the next best WR on this team after Tyreek Hill. Pringle gets himself on the field with his special teams and blocking (in fact, he’s been a top ten blocking WR in the league two years in a row now per PFF). But that’s actually led to more opportunities in the offense as Pringle has oddly led this wideout group in routes run over the last six games (yes, his 175 routes run is more than Hill’s 165 and only five less than Kelce’s 180 over that span). I don’t think people realize how solid of a play Pringle actually is at this point.
Fade: Chiefs Running Backs
This is just a mess really. We thought we could trust Darrell Williams and then Jerick McKinnon comes out of nowhere to have 140+ yards. Now Clyde Edwards-Helaire returns to muddy those waters even more. All against a team letting up the single fewest yards per game in the league. We gave you a couple solid options with Aaron Jones, Elijah Mitchell, Devin Singletary. Really no reason to play this guessing game.