AFC, NFC Championships: Daily Fantasy Football short-slate lineup-building advice

By TJ Hernandez, 4for4

Special to Yahoo Sports

For the Conference Championships, Yahoo’s $100K Baller is the main event, awarding $20,000 to first place. The following analysis will offer a game breakdown but before that, DFS players who are used to playing full slates should consider some of the short-slate lineup-building techniques that were outlined in last week’s article.

(Note: All betting spreads/totals are from BetMGM)

Buccaneers @ Packers (-3.5); U/O 51.5

This is one of the more unique two-game slates that you will see from the standpoint that every offense is worthy of heavy stacks. DFS players will be forced to make some bold stands and this matchup points to favoring Green Bay’s passing offense over Tampa Bay’s.

The Buccaneers are a run-funnel defense that 4for4 ranks in the bottom 10 in schedule-adjusted fantasy points allowed to quarterbacks, wide receivers, and tight ends but top 10 against running backs. Offenses have exploited that by throwing against Tampa at the highest rate in the league in neutral game script. Green Bay’s defense has been the polar opposite. They are a top-five defense against quarterbacks and wide receivers when adjusted for schedule strength while facing the sixth-highest rushing rate in neutral situations.

A knock against Aaron Rodgers ($33) is how much he struggled against the Bucs’ blitz-heavy defense in Week 6 but he has righted that wrong. Since Week 7, Rodgers ranks in the top five in on-target rate and yards per attempt when pressured, according to SportsInfoSolutions. Pairing Rodgers with Davante Adams ($38) is an obvious stacking option when targeting the Green Bay offense but rostering Adams goes beyond stacks. On a slate that is weak at running back, one of the biggest decision points of the week will be which high-end pass-catchers to pair together and Adams is the top non-quarterback value with a salary over $20.

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Robert Tonyan ($18) is a touchdown-dependent contrarian play off of Travis Kelce but his target volume has waned in recent weeks, leaving Marquez Valdes-Scantling ($18) and Allen Lazard ($13) as the preferred secondary pass-catchers for the Packers. Tampa Bay has been one of the better defenses at preventing the deep ball but the discrepancy in salary and Lazard’s recent performance should result in Lazard seeing a much higher rostered rate than Valdes-Scantling. With the Buccaneers’ blitz-heavy scheme, MVS could benefit from a couple of boom plays when Tamps gets caught in a single-high safety look.

With Antonio Brown out and Mike Evans ($24) likely getting the Jaire Alexander treatment, Chris Godwin ($26) stands out as the pass-catcher to target on the Bucs’ side. In the initial matchup between these teams, Godwin and Rob Gronkowski ($16) combined for 15 of the team’s 27 targets. In recent weeks, however, Gronk’s routes have been limited as he’s been needed to help pass-block. That may play out again against a Packers defense with the third-highest sack rate since Week 9, per SportsInfoSolutions.

Aaron Jones ($31) and Jamaal Williams ($15) were in a virtual timeshare last week, making Williams the preferred DFS option at the lower salary and likely lower rostered rate. For the Buccaneers, Ronald Jones ($23) is similarly valued to Leonard Fournette ($22) and the latter will likely be on more rosters after out-touching Jones in the Divisional Round. Against a defense that teams run heavily against, betting on Jones retaining his starting role after being limited by an injury last week is a great differentiator play.

Bills @ Chiefs (-3.0); O/U 53.5

With Patrick Mahomes ($38) on track to play on Sunday, this game can be stacked heavily on both sides. Without dominant running backs on the slate, DFS players will be tempted to jam in Travis Kelce ($34) and Tyreek Hill ($33) together but they would have to secure virtually all of the scoring to hit a ceiling that matches their salaries. Buffalo’s defensive tendency to play deep safeties and limit long completions points to Kelce being the preferred pay-up option — when these teams played in Week 6, Hill was held to just 20 yards. Mahomes’s toe injury could limit his mobility and encourage the Bills to employ a similar game plan, especially with linebacker Matt Milano to help shore up a rush defense that struggled without him in their first meeting with the Chiefs.

Kansas City Chiefs quarterback Patrick Mahomes
Patrick Mahomes is set to be all systems go for the AFC Championship. (AP Photo/Jeff Roberson)

Kansas City’s pass-catchers rarely offer much predictable upside after Kelce and Hill and things are even trickier with Sammy Watkins ($14) practicing. If Watkins is active, he is the preferred ancillary piece in the Chiefs passing game over Mecole Hardman ($13) because of how few deep plays the Bills allow, although Buffalo is more intriguing for secondary pass-catchers.

The relatively low salaries of the Bills’ pass-catchers after Stefon Diggs ($35) along with Josh Allen’s ($40) rushing upside make Buffalo the most versatile offense of the weekend in terms of stacking options. Against a defense that ranks in the bottom 10 in schedule-adjusted points allowed to quarterbacks, running backs, and tight ends, full Bills onslaughts are reasonable but playing Josh Allen without any of his pass-catchers is a contrarian build that plays into his usage on the ground near the goal line.

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After Diggs, John Brown is the most appealing option to pair with Allen. With Gabriel Davis injured early in the Divisional Round and Cole Beasley at less than 100%, Brown was targeted 11 times last week. His 62-yard output may have DFS players looking elsewhere for salary-saving options but only five teams allowed more completions on deep passes than the Chiefs this season. Brown is 4for4’s top value across all positions.

Whether in double tight-end builds or as a pivot off of Kelce, Dawson Knox ($11) is a player who should see a low rostered rate with a great positional matchup — Kansas City finished the season ranked 29th against tight ends after adjusting for schedule strength.

Clyde Edwards-Helaire ($20) had his best fantasy outing against this Bills defense, but as noted earlier, that was when the Bills were without Matt Milano. Darrel Williams ($16) has played well in passing situations, making CEH the preferred running back as a contrarian play in Chiefs stacks while Williams makes sense as a contrarian bring-back option in Josh Allen lineups.

Choosing a defense should largely be based on potential game flows that rosters are built around. Buffalo’s conservative approach on defense doesn’t bode well for fantasy purposes while Kansas City and Tampa Bay benefit from blitz-heavy approaches.

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TJ is a former full-time poker player who has been playing fantasy football for more than a decade. After online poker was outlawed, TJ ended his poker career and dedicated himself to fantasy football. His background in poker statistics and analytics translates to success in both daily and season-long fantasy football.

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